Pope Francis blessing the statue (Source - Twitter)

Pope Francis blessing the statue (Source – Twitter)

Pope Francis has continued his tradition of unplanned stops with a surprise blessing of a statue celebrating Catholic-Jewish relations during his tour of the United States. 

Sunday’s unannounced detour at the Jesuit-run St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia saw the pontiff spend several minutes at ‘Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time,’ created to counter centuries of anti-Semitic imagery in Catholic art. 

A bronze work by local artist Joshua Koffman, it commemorates the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, an important Vatican document on interfaith relations, in which the Church decreed that Jews should not be held accountable for the death of Jesus.

The pope was accompanied on his visit to the university’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations by his good friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka. Both men are from Argentina and co-wrote a book on interfaith dialogue. 

Philip Cunningham, the professor of theology at the institute, said: “It is profoundly moving that he came to visit.”  Francis is proving a hugely popular Catholic leader, with crowds of over 1 million turning out for his speeches.