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John XXIII, the 'best pope for Jewish people' for work during the Holocaust, to be canonized on Sunday

NEW YORK--Pope John XXIII, who will be canonized on Sunday, was “the best pope in history for the Jewish people,” says one of the founders of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.

John XXIII, who will be made a saint along with John Paul II at the Vatican, is credited with saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust and opening the door to Judeo-Christian dialogue, Baruch Tenembaum told AFP in an interview at the Foundation's New York headquarters.

The Italian-born John XXIII, whose given name was Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, “did such extraordinary things. I'm delighted that he is becoming a saint, even if — as a Jew — beatification doesn't affect me.”

“He couldn't have done more than he did,” explained Tenembaum, a 80-year-old Argentine known for his efforts to improve inter-faith dialogue. In 2009, his name was placed in the running for the Nobel peace prize.

As the Vatican's envoy to Turkey from 1935, John XXIII helped save the lives of thousands of Eastern European Jews facing persecution from the Nazis, including by giving Hungarian Jews baptismal certificates.

“At the time, having identity papers labeling you a Catholic was enough to save your life,” Tenembaum said.

A document on file at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel cites the future pope as being “among the most sensitive to the Jewish tragedy and most vigorous in rescue efforts.”

Tenembaum has asked that Yad Vashem add John XXIII to its list of “Righteous Among the Nations” — a title honoring non-Jews who showed courage to protect Jews during the Holocaust.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation honors the legacy of a Swedish diplomat, posted to Nazi-occupied Budapest in July 1944, who is believed to have saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews in the final months of the Holocaust by providing them with protective passports.

The foundation works to preserve his legacy and that of others who saved numerous lives, and not only during the Shoah.

Tenembaum has worked hard to publicize John XXIII's work during his time in Turkey, about which there are few official records.

Champion of Inter-faith Dialogue

The scholar also praised John XXIII — nicknamed “Good Pope John” — for helping open up the Roman Catholic Church to dialogue with other faiths during his 1958-1963 papacy.

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