Producing the Pope

An up-close and personal experience of Pope Benedict's visit from a Jewish woman's perspective

BH: [laughs] What did he say at the homily that moved you so much?

RG: He apparently doesn’t have writers that are writing for him; he’s writing it himself. His words, I found, were beautiful. He’s very articulate and well-spoken, and his homily was like art almost. It flowed beautifully, it kept my attention, and you could just feel it. You could tell in his message it was genuine and his words were from his heart. And to see that out of a world leader, someone who’s being completely surrounded by Secret Service for every moment—for him to kind of break out of that with incredible warmth…I thought was really outstanding.

BH: He seems like a shy man to me…disarmingly vulnerable in a way.

RG: To see his reaction when people spontaneously burst out singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him, to see his grin, you could just tell it was so genuine. He was like a little kid who was just being sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to for the first time, at 81 years old, you know? It was very unplanned by everyone, and it was that kind of stuff that I thought was great.

BH: Can you talk about a couple of different messages that really resonated with you?

RG: I think that his message about the Catholic Church and about the sexual abuse—the fact that he addressed it head-on, and the fact that he didn’t shy away from it, the fact that he asked for forgiveness and said ‘this is not something that’s tolerated on any level’, and brought a group of people into a private meeting and asked them for forgiveness; Who of our leaders have we ever seen take responsibility, take true responsibility for something? I thought that that was incredible.

BH: As a non-Catholic is this something you felt perhaps needed to be addressed more fully?

RG: Oh absolutely. And it’s something that’s kept a huge number of people away from the Catholic Church. I think this is a fear that a lot of people have as well as a gross generalization. Since I’ve started working with people of the Catholic Church, I’ve realized what some of my own generalizations were before all of this and I feel like I understand the Church much better.

BH: What kind of generalizations are you talking about?

RG: Well I guess more surrounding celibacy in the priesthood and that kind of thing. I think that there’s still something human about all of this, but on the other side I feel like these are rules that these people are choosing to follow, and at that level is where I think the Pope took responsibility for it. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone just stand up in front of the world and say, ‘yes, we take responsibility for this and we’re sorry!’ Who among us has never had to apologize for something we’ve done or something someone else has done in our name, and to do that on a world-wide level as a world leader, I think, shows such human-ness. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a huge wave of return of people to the Catholic Church after this; I feel like this is one issue that has kept a large number of people away from the Church. That sense of ‘you tell me what I have to do and can’t do, and then this is happening?’

“He was reaching out and touching hands not just of the youth of the Catholic faith, but also that of the Jewish faith. And I thought that was great, especially at Passover. What greater time to bring that unity together?”

BH: How have your friends and family reacted to this?

RG: Well, I do admit that a number of Jewish friends have challenged me that he was a Hitler youth, and that he was a German soldier and ‘how can I possibly back this man’ and ‘so what if after all these years he stands in a Synagogue’? But it’s not a ‘so what?’ to me. He chose that Synagogue carefully; Rabbi Schneier is a Holocaust survivor who reached out his hand to the Pope. Do I look at all Germans as evil because my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and a lot of my grandparents’ family did not survive? My grandparents escaped the Holocaust and I’m just third-generation. So of course I have a lot of feelings about this, but this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever seen a real move toward a healing of that time, amongst two people that were there, that were involved. He talked a lot in his homilies about it being springtime and a new time for a new way to see the world, a greener time, and all these things. Especially in the time of Passover, I feel like it’s a change of time and we have a choice: we can move farther apart or we can move closer together. And the Pope was really promoting, advocating and pushing for moving us closer together and I applaud that completely.

BH: Did you find yourself trying to explain some of these more nuanced points to your Jewish friends?

RG: Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. I’ve definitely been encouraging people to read more about him. Read his speeches, read what he said at the Synagogue. I also appreciate that he doesn’t talk for three hours; his speeches are short and to the point and well-articulated, and say what he has to say while also keeping everyone’s attention, and not getting up there and preaching to us as though he’s somehow better than the rest of the world because he is the Pope. [laughs] He seems very much like one of his people.

BH: It sounds like it was a pretty powerful moment for you at both a professional and personal level.

RG: Absolutely. Absolutely.