ST. LEO, Fla. | Rabbi A. James Rudin, who has built strong Catholic-Jewish relations around the world working with popes and other faith leaders, was named a knight of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great in ceremonies at St. Leo University in Florida.
During the investiture Nov. 20 at the university, Rabbi Rudin became just the third American rabbi to earn the honor.
Auxiliary Bishop Mark W. O'Connell of Boston conducted the ceremony on behalf of Pope Francis. Boston Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was to preside, but the pope called him to Rome for meetings.
"Rabbi Rudin is a teacher and educator in the ways of peace rooted in truth and justice. In bestowing this honor on Rabbi Rudin, Pope Francis continues the high regard that the Catholic Church holds for our esteemed colleagues of the Jewish faith and the expression of gratitude for their leadership," Bishop O'Connell said in reading a statement from Cardinal O'Malley.
A co-founder of the university's Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, Rabbi Rudin expressed gratitude for the recognition of his efforts.
"It is an honor and a privilege to accept this extraordinary award," he said. "To be selected for a papal knighthood is the highlight of both of my professional and personal life."
Rabbi Rudin of Fort Myers, Florida, has been an international leader in interreligious relations. As a staff member of the American Jewish Committee for 32 years, he has served as its interreligious affairs officer and currently is senior interreligious adviser.
He also is distinguished professor of religion and Judaica at St. Leo University.
In 1998, he met at the university with its president at the time, Arthur Kirk Jr., Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, now retired, and the late Bishop John J. Nevins of Venice, Florida, leading to the establishment of the university's Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies.
Rabbi Rudin recalled that at the time, "we had no idea that nearly a quarter century later the CCJS would become one of America's leading interreligious centers," he said.
Matthew Tapie, the center's current director, and Rabbi David Maayan, the Douglas and Maureen Cohn visiting professor of Jewish studies, coordinate the center's programs.
Tapie credited Rabbi Rudin's pioneering work to build interreligious bonds around the world as well as for establishing a strong tradition of interreligious dialogue on Florida's west coast.
"Through his co-founding of the CCJS, he has made it possible for future generations of scholars to do the work of building mutual respect and understanding between Catholics and Jews, and all people of goodwill," Tapie said.
Rabbi Rudin received his rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and served as a U.S. Air Force chaplain in Japan and Korea.
In his most recent book, "The People in the Room: Rabbis, Nuns, Pastors, Popes and Presidents," he describes his global travels and meetings with leaders and local community members.
He has been a member of the Camp David President Retreat Chapel Committee and co-founded the national interreligious task forces on Soviet Jewry and Black-Jewish relations. In addition, he met several times with St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.