MONTREAL — Dr. Victor Goldbloom is being recognized by the Vatican for his lifelong leadership in promoting Catholic-Jewish relations.
Goldbloom, a pioneer in interfaith dialogue locally, nationally and internationally, will receive the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Sylvester Pope and Martyr, to be bestowed by Pope Benedict XVI.
Established in 1905, it’s one of five Orders of Knighthood awarded directly by the pope as head of the Catholic Church and as head of the State of Vatican City.
Goldbloom is among a minority of non-Catholics and small number of Jews worldwide to be so honoured, and he joins the ranks of such noteworthy and diverse members as German industrialist Oskar Schindler, credited with saving more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust; entertainer Bob Hope; Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, and Archduke Otto von Habsburg, crown prince of Austria and Hungary.
Goldbloom, 88, was recommended by the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, an independent Montreal-based organization encouraging inter-church and interfaith dialogue.
“This is an extremely rare honour, normally reserved for ambassadors,” said the centre’s executive director, Anthony Mansour.
“As far as I know, Dr. Goldbloom is the first Jewish Canadian to receive the honour, and among a handful of Canadians of any faith. He is the first non-Christian in the history of the Archdiocese of Montreal and Quebec to have the papal honour conferred upon him.”
The recommendation was approved by the new Catholic Archbishop of Montreal Christian Lépine and officially announced at a reception held at his residence May 10. Also present were Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd.
Announced concurrently was the awarding to Father Irénée Beaubien, 96, the centre’s founder in 1963, of the Pontifical Medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
Father Beaubien and Goldbloom, a board member of the centre, are pioneers in combating misunderstanding between Catholics, especially francophones, and Jews in Quebec. They will formally be decorated Sept. 4 at a gala dinner at Federation CJA’s Gelber Conference Centre, which will benefit the centre.
The choice of award, Bishop Dowd noted, was recommended by the Vatican.
“It is appropriate, because what is an ambassador? It is someone who knows where he is from and is faithful to it, but is open to dialogue with another community.”
Goldbloom said his interfaith work began more than 50 years ago, when he was “an ordinary practising pediatrician with no experience in inter-religious relations” and came into contact with the Jesuit fathers who were then the faculty of what was Loyola College.
“It challenged me to know my own religion better and to talk about it with those who did not know it,” he recalled.
Early on, Goldbloom advocated that the Jewish community must dialogue with the majority in Quebec, and must be able to do so in French. Among the many friendships he made, one Goldbloom cherishes is with Cardinal Turcotte, who retired as archbishop in March.
Goldbloom remembered the archbishop’s participation in a Yom Kippur service at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom some years ago.
Turcotte sat between Goldbloom and Rabbi Leigh Lerner. As is customary, they placed a tallit over the shoulders of their guest as an amicable gesture.
“That was one of the most moving moments of my life,” Goldbloom said.
Venerable David Oliver, the Anglican chair of the centre’s board, noted the historical significance of a Christian and a Jew being honoured at the same Sept. 4 event. It marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which radically transformed the Catholic Church’s relationship with other faiths.
“Leading up to the Council, it was men like Father Beaubien and Dr. Goldbloom, often working against opposition from within their own religious communities, who paved the way,” Oliver said.
“They are two Quebecers, two Canadians, two men of faith who helped shape the open and tolerant society we enjoy today. Every generation that follows owes them a debt of gratitude for their courage, perseverance and unwavering commitment to dialogue as the path to peace and reconciliation.”