MONTREAL — In what was described as an historic event, Christian-Jewish dialogue pioneer Victor Goldbloom was invested into a papal knighthood in a ceremony held at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom on Oct. 4.
Goldbloom, 89, is one of the few non-Christians in the world to be made a Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester, an honour conferred by Pope Benedict XVI.
The occasion is believed to be the first time that papal honours were bestowed on a Roman Catholic and a Jew at the sam/Users/macintoshhd/Desktop/pope.txte ceremony, said MC Anne-Marie Trahan, a board member of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism (CCE). It was also noteworthy for taking place in a synagogue, she added.
The evening, which was attended by a multi-faith and multicultural audience of almost 350, also recognized another inter-religious relations pioneer, Father Irénée Beaubien, 96, who received the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. In 1963, the Jesuit priest founded the CCE, which soon after launched formal Christian-Jewish dialogue.
The room was darkened, except for the stage, and a trumpet was sounded as each of the medals was presented.
Goldbloom accepted his from Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, who retired as Archbishop of Montreal this March after 12 years and has been a friend of Goldbloom’s for more than 30 years.
“I know few people who stand so firm in their religious conviction, while being so open to listening to those of others,” Cardinal Turcotte said of Goldbloom, whose interfaith work goes back more than 50 years and still continues today. That was a time when institutional and even social relations between Jews and Catholics, especially those who were francophone, were rare.
Cardinal Turcotte recommended to the Vatican that Goldbloom receive the knighthood. The current archbishop, Most Rev. Christian Lépine, was also present, as well as Bishop Thomas Dowd.
Université de Montréal theologian Jean Duhaime, who introduced Goldbloom, said that the octogenerian has in more recent years not shied away from the Middle East conflict when it comes up in dialogue.
He is also ready to explain Israel’s position to critics. In August, Goldbloom spoke at the United Church of Canada’s General Council, which approved a boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Goldbloom said he was “profoundly grateful” for the papal honour, especially to the Pope himself. He expressed gratitude to a long list of people from whom he has learned or who made it possible for him to be effective.
He started with his late father, Alton Goldbloom, a pediatrician, a profession Victor would follow in.
Born in Montreal in 1890 and a 1916 graduate of medicine from McGill University, Alton Goldbloom “encountered obstacles that were frankly antisemitic, but he always said to me it is possible to overcome these difficulties and we must make every effort to do so,” his son recalled.
Victor Goldbloom’s earliest talks with Catholics were initiated by the Jesuit priests at then-Loyola University, he said,
He became a good friend of the Archbishop of Montreal in the 1950s and ’60s, the late Paul-Emile Léger. He was honoured to be a founding director of the Jules and Paul-Emile Léger Foundation 30 years ago, and to be its president later on. He is honorary president today.
Goldbloom described “one of his most moving experiences” in his long service to interfaith understanding as occurring seven years ago, on the 40th anniversary of the Vatican Council II, which liberalized the Catholic Church’s attitudes to those of other beliefs.
Cardinal Turcotte was the temple’s guest speaker at Yom Kippur that year. Goldbloom and Rabbi Leigh Lerner, who was then the senior rabbi, sat on either side of the archbishop.
During the traditional expression of fellowship, Goldbloom and Rabbi Lerner draped their prayer shawls over Turcotte’s shoulders and stood together, Goldbloom said.
The temple was a fitting place for this ceremony because it has a long history of being open to contact with non-Jews, since the time of Rabbi Harry Stern, its spiritual leader from 1927-79, its current senior rabbi Lisa Grushcow said.
Msgr. Mark Langham, a pontifical official for relations with non-Catholics, sent greetings from Rome via video.
The evening was co-chaired by Bishop’s University principal Michael Goldbloom, a son of Victor, and Yves Séguin, a former Quebec cabinet minister. Victor Goldbloom, a Liberal MNA from 1966-79, was Quebec’s first Jewish cabinet minister. He then became president of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.