... Bernardo Benes, a retired Cuban-born banker ... Benes is Jewish ...
When John Paul died in April 2005, Benes went ''as a simple Jew'' to Rome for the funeral. Using his considerable business contacts, he was able to meet [JPII lifelong Judaic friend Jerzy] Kluger. That visit confirmed what Benes had been feeling for a while: somehow, the late pope's work with the Jewish community had to continue.
Back in Miami, Benes threw himself into a new project, Our Elder Brothers and Sisters Foundation (www.ourelderbrothers.org). Its goal: To foster better relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people by building upon the late pope's work.
So now Benes, 73, spends 10-hour days in front of a computer at a desk an old friend has loaned him in an office overlooking Coral Way. His fiery red hair has faded, and the stogie that was once his trademark is only an occasional indulgence.
Benes' optimism, however, remains intact.
''He's a very idealistic person, and that has sometimes gotten him into trouble,'' says Dave Lawrence Jr., former Miami Herald publisher and a member of the Our Elder Brothers advisory board. ``But we need people like him to make progress in this world. What would we do without big dreamers?''
The organization builds on the late pope's work in three ways: by distributing a four-page brochure on John Paul II and the Jews, by promoting a universal celebration of April 13 in every synagogue and Catholic church as a commemoration of John Paul's visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986, and by working with Catholic and Jewish educational institutions to include lessons about John Paul and the Jews in their curricula.
So far, Benes has recruited well-known local and national leaders to join his board and has raised $70,000 in small donations. His core advisers believe that the foundation's mission is different from the efforts of other interfaith groups.
''It's more practical and more activist,'' says former U.S. ambassador Ambler Moss, a professor of international studies at the University of Miami who is on the foundation's board. ``The goals are very specific. He's very focused on education.''
Benes has distributed hundreds of thousands of copies of the brochure -- now translated into 11 languages -- through churches, schools and other organizations. In October he attended the First Conference in the Vatican of Lay Catholic and Jewish Leaders. At his suggestion, John Paul's writings on the Jews have been added to the curriculum at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, and the school's course offerings now include a Jewish theology class taught by a rabbi.
''From an academic point of view, you can't understand Catholic theology, certainly Christianity itself, without knowing Jewish thought,'' says Steven O'Hala, vice rector and academic dean. ``From a pastoral view, we want our seminarians to be more effective in a pluralistic setting, and this certainly contributes to that.''
Benes says his work these past two years is not that much different from the delicate political maneuvering he managed three decades ago. In fact, the goal -- ''To make this a better world'' -- is the same ... (Ana Veciana-Suarez, "Jewish exile takes up late pope's work," Miami Herald, Feb. 02, 2008)
From Benes' "Our Elder Brothers" Website:
There are different levels of involvement you can select according to your commitment to expand our mission, as follows:
1.- Organize a Mass or an event at a Catholic Church similar to the one we organized in Miami on Sept. 17th. 2006-see media coverage under icon Press Room. The Mass is to celebrate the life of Pope Paul II as the reconciliator of Catholic and Jews. In our case we served a Kosher luncheon at the St. Mary's Cathedral in Miami. Many local Jewish and Catholic leaders were invited.The media coverage was excellent.
2. Organize an event at a Synagogue inviting a Catholic, Protestant and Muslim clergy to celebrate the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Synagogue of Rome as we did in Miami on January 17th., 2007. See media coverage under icon Press Room. An adapted program could be develop by you. An ample media coverage took place.
3. For every Synagogue in the World to celebrate every April 13th the Anniversary of the visit of Pope John Paul II by inviting the priest of a Catholic Church in the area to participate in the celebration. We are working to start this event on April 13, 2007.
4. Visit and contact the Dean of Education of the Seminary in your area to include in the curriculum:
a) Studies of Pope John Paul II and the Jews
b) The Holocaust, and
5. The distribution in your area of the brochure as it appears in the icon BROCHURE. It is very easy to finance the printing of it. Just let us know that you want to do it. We will tell you how.
6. Forward this website to any organization and/or individual that you know believes in ecumenism and interreligiuos activities as a way to advance the Judeo-Christian civilization.
If in principle you want to engage yourself in initiating any of the activities mentioned above, please contact us. We can provide you with many details of how to organize any of them. It will save you time and effort. We have the experience because we have done it already.
To become a Volunteer with the Our Elder Brothers and Sisters Foundation, please contact Bernardo Benes at 305 785-7028 or at e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org .