Within the framework of the Millennium Summit, an interfaith ceremony took place on September 7, 2000 at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Vatican to the United Nations in New York, organized by the diplomatic delegation and the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF). With the attendance of the Secretary of the Vatican State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a homage was rendered to the memory of Pope John XXIII, Monsignor Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, for his humanitarian actions in favor of people persecuted by the nazi regime.
Joao Crisóstomo, an active Portuguese collaborator of the IRWF, opened the ceremony. The General Consul of Portugal, Ambassador Carlos Cruz de Almeida, read a greeting letter from Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Guterres. Attending were ambassadors, chiefs of diplomatic missions of more than twenty countries, community leaders, Rabbis, Priests, government functionaries and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
The meeting opened when the Chief of the Vatican Mission, Archbishop Renato Martino, presented Rabbi David Algaze, who went on to emphasize the humanitarian work affected by Monsignor Roncalli as Apostolic Nuncio in Turkey during the Second World War.
”Being the Nuncio in Istanbul, he (Roncalli) saved the lives of the persecuted and he collaborated extensively with the Nuncio in Budapest, Monsignor Angelo Rotta, a priest who helped Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, in his rescue mission to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews condemned to death by the zealous murderer, Adolph Eichmann. What’s more, we should not forget the decisive role Pope John XXIII had towards Jewish-Catholic co-existence through his convocation of the Second Vatican Council”, pointed out the religious leader born in Argentina and founder of the Hadat Israel Jewish Community in Queens, New York.
Afterwards, Rabbi Simon Moguilevsky took the podium representing the IRWF, NGO which already includes more than twenty heads of state in its prestigious, worldwide list of members. Rabbi Moguilevsky is the spiritual leader of the main Jewish temple Argentina.
Rabbi Algaze read a letter from the IRWF signed by its founder, Mr. Baruch Tenembaum, an Argentine businessman born in the Jewish colony of Santa Fe. The missive, directed to the highest authorities of the Holocaust Museum in Israel, encourages that institution to declare Monsignor Roncalli ”Righteous Among the Nations”. ”Righteous” is a term used to describe any non-Jew who helped save Jews during the Holocaust (1933-1945). Among the most widely recognized ”Righteous” individuals are Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg. The letter was handed to Samuel Sisso, the General Consul of Israel and a copy was given to Cardinal Sodano. The letter also asks the Vatican to disclose any further documents that might shed light to Raoul Wallenberg’s final fate. Raoul Wallenberg disappeared on January 17, 1945 after having been arrested by the Soviet army hours after the occupation of Budapest.
Towards the conclusion of the event and demonstrating exquisite skill in speaking Spanish, Cardinal Sodano remembered his last visit to Argentina in October 1998.
”I remember visiting the Mural dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust installed inside the Cathedral of Buenos Aires. I was Nuncio in Chile for ten years and I could tell you that this work is difficult. For this reason this homage to Pope John XXIII is also for all of us who work for brotherhood.”
As a show of affection and fraternity, Mr. Tenembaum, accompanied by Abraham Foxman, President of the Anti-Defamation League, presented Cardinal Sodano with a sculpture created by the Argentine artist, Norma D’Ippolito titled ”Homage to Raoul Wallenberg”.
Among the Argentine attendees were the Ambassador of the Argentine Mission to the U.N., Domingo Cullen; General Consul of Argentina in New York, Ambassador Guillermo McGough and the General Secretary of the Buenos Aires Provincial Government, Esteban Caselli. Letters of adhesion were read from U.S. Congressman, Tom Lantos; Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department., Stuart E. Eizenstat; New York City Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani; Connecticut Rabbi, Joseph Ehrenkranz; New York State Governor, George Pataki and the Secretary of Religious Affairs of the Argentine Foreign Office, Norberto Padilla.