As Catholics mourned the loss of Pope John Paul II, leaders of other religions paid tribute to the life of a profoundly spiritual man who reached out to the masses.
“He was a leader in the Christian world, and I think the Jewish people have really lost a friend,” said Gary Singer, president of Ner Tamid, one of two reformed Jewish congregations in Spokane. “I know that he worked for reconciliation between the peoples of different faiths and he spoke out strongly against anti-Semitism, calling it a sin against God.”
Singer was touched by the pope’s 1979 visit to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. While there, John Paul knelt before a memorial to Holocaust victims and prayed, honoring their suffering.
In 1986, he visited the main synagogue in Rome, embracing the chief rabbi and calling Jews “Christianity’s older brothers.” “I think because of this,” Singer said, “he’ll be remembered by Jews the world over as a good and decent human being.”
John Tusant, executive director for the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals, called the pope an agent for change because of his efforts toward world peace, increased morality and outreach to people living in countries throughout the world.
“He set a precedent for a willingness to understand where others are. He didn’t cast them out, he welcomed them in,” Tusant said.
The Rev. Brian Prior, of Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Spokane Valley, said the pope proved an example to others by continuing to do God’s work despite his own suffering and by reaching out to young people.
“I’ve run into a lot of young people throughout the years who went and saw him when he was in the States,” Prior said, explaining that regardless of their religious beliefs, the youngsters said meeting the pope was incredibly moving. “He was obviously a deeply spiritual man,” Prior said.
Singer’s congregation plans to offer Kaddish, a traditional Hebrew prayer of mourning, for the pope. “The pope loved the whole world, so he will be remembered as a blessing.”