Rockhurst University to host Israeli ambassador to the Holy See
- Created: Thursday, 26 September 2013 17:00
- Written by Marcia Montgomery
Israel’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Zion Evrony, is coming to Rockhurst University on Tuesday, Oct. 8. It is the first time someone in that position has ever traveled to Kansas City or the Catholic university. All this can be credited to the behind-the-scenes work that the Consul General’s Office to the Midwest, based in Chicago, does to promote the State of Israel. The local Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee can also take some credit for this historic visit.
Evrony’s speech is titled “Conversations between Jerusalem and Rome.” Sponsored by Rockhurst in cooperation with the JCRB|AJC, it is part of the university’s visiting scholar lecture series and will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Mason-Halpin Convocation Center. The ambassador will discuss the history of Israeli relations with the Vatican, when and how the embassy was established, and the current issues being addressed between Israel and the Holy See. A question-and-answer session will follow his prepared remarks.
“I will attempt to explain and highlight the issues of greatest concern to the relationship between Israel and the Holy See, including both progress and challenges ahead. I will attempt to explain the Holy See’s evolving stance towards Israel from rejection and denial to acceptance and recognition,” wrote Evrony in an email to The Chronicle.
(Editor’s note: The term Holy See is often used as a synonym for the Vatican or the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy See, though not an actual city, is the entity that maintains official diplomatic relations with governments. The Vatican is actually the palace in Vatican City that is used as the official residence of the pope and the administrative center of the papacy.)
Marvin Szneler, executive director of the JCRB|AJC, noted, “This program is emblematic of the meaningful relationship between Rockhurst University and JCRB|AJC, and indeed the work that has been done locally between the Catholic and Jewish communities.”
“Ambassador Evrony is a very respected diplomat, and his two experiences alone as ambassador to the Holy See and ambassador to Ireland provide fascinating information that most of us will not hear elsewhere,” Szneler continued.
The idea that an Israeli ambassador to the Holy See would visit Kansas City and Rockhurst came about during a mission trip to Israel in 2011, which was led by the office of the Consul General of the Midwest.
“They invited a group of leaders from higher ed in the Midwest to come and experience Israel and have a series of meetings with folks in higher ed and government and industry and the press, really exposing us to the story of Israel from Israel’s perspective,” said Rockhurst President The Rev. Thomas B. Curran. Two other leaders from area universities took park in that mission — Avila University’s President Ron Slepitza and University of Missouri-Kansas City Chancellor Leo Morton. Szneler accompanied the group.
While at a session at the Foreign Ministry, Father Curran struck up a conversation with Evrony, who had recently completed his service as Israel’s Ambassador to Ireland and was awaiting confirmation of his next assignment. At the time Evrony thought he would be sent to represent Israel at the Holy See.
“So I asked him if he would consider coming to the United States, more specifically Rockhurst.”
Father Curran kept in touch with Evrony in the hopes that the appointment would be made public, which it was in the spring of 2012. The ambassador agreed to come visit Rockhurst, but first he wanted to get some experience in his new position before traveling to the United States, finally settling on a date this fall.
The Catholic priest praised the JCRB|AJC for its help in arranging this event.
“We’ve had a lot of assistance from our friends at the JCRB|AJC promoting it and helping with the logistics and engaging the office of the ambassador and we are very grateful to them for helping with the whole process,” Father Curran said.
Szneler said it is a great honor to work with Father Curran.
“He cares deeply about the entire community. We at JCRB|AJC are fortunate to work with him as he is a leader in making this a more just community. Building understanding and mutual respect is key to those efforts,” Szneler said.
Father Curran said Rockhurst is interested in having the Israeli visit the university because, “As a Jesuit institution we believe you must be open to all experiences to fully engage the world and one of the ways to fully engage the world is through conversation.”
“I would love to hear his perspective and that perspective is enhanced now … that we have a Jesuit as a pope (Pope Francis) and he’s coming to a Jesuit university,” Father Curran said.
Jesuits today are known for embracing a wide variety of ministries and civil occupations. They are probably most well known for their educational work and since the inception of the order Jesuits have been teachers. Today, there are Jesuit-run universities such as Rockhurst, colleges, high schools and middle or elementary schools in dozens of countries. Jesuits also serve on the faculties of both Catholic and secular schools.
“As the students would say, we’re pretty jazzed about the ambassador’s visit,” the university’s president said.
Evrony wrote from Rome that relations today between Israel and the Holy See are good and based on mutual trust.
“They are unique because they include theological and political issues. Next year we will mark 20 years since the signing of the fundamental agreement, which established official diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See. The upcoming year will be an opportunity to celebrate but also to think about ways to strengthen and expand the relations,” he wrote.
“Also, recently, there has been a significant progress in the negotiations on the economic/financial agreement between Israel and the Holy See regarding the church property in Israel and taxation. We hope that this agreement will be signed in the near future and will pave the way to further improve the relations,” he continued.
The Tuesday evening event is the only one open to the public, however the ambassador will participate in a variety of activities while spending the day at Rockhurst. Evrony will speak to a group of students, a group of clergy of various faiths and he will place a wreath at the Monument to the Jesuits who perished in the Shoah. A plaque commemorating the 152 Jesuit priests who gave of their lives during the Holocaust was installed at Rockhurst in April 2007.
“It’s the only plaque of its kind in the world,” Father Curran said.
Father Curran is hoping Evrony’s visit will result in a lively conversation.
“Ultimately I hope it will be a springboard for more conversations and what we can do to better our community and better relations and dialogue between our Jewish brothers and sisters and the Catholic community.”
More about Ambassador Zion Evrony
Israel’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Zion Evrony, was born in 1949 and grew up in Israel. He arrived at his new post in Rome on Aug. 1, 2012, and presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on Sept. 5, 2012.
A veteran diplomat, Ambassador Evrony joined the foreign service in 1973 after three years of military service and briefly working as a journalist. He has held several positions overseas, including Ambassador to Ireland (2006-2010); Consul General in Houston (1995-2002) and Consul in New York (1987-1991).
Evrony said being the ambassador of Israel to the Holy See is a “job unlike any other diplomatic mission I have ever had.”
“Relations between Israel and the Holy See are unique in the sense that theological and political issues are sometime linked and influence each other. I see myself as Israel’s ambassador to the Catholic world because the Holy See has great influence and moral authority over 1.2 billion Catholics around the world,” he explained.
The ambassador has also held several positions in the foreign ministry headquarters in Jerusalem including special adviser for academic affairs to the director general (2011-2012); head of the policy planning bureau (2003-2006); director of the international department and the Iranian desk at the Policy Research Center (1991-1994); and director of the diplomatic cadet course (1976-1977).
In 2000, he received the Israel’s Foreign Service Award and the Civil Service Award for Excellence in recognition of his work as Consul General in Houston.
Ambassador Evrony received a doctorate in international relations, a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in sociology and political science, all from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has published many articles in the international press on Israel and the peace process and his career has also included several university teaching positions as a guest lecturer on human rights in international relations at the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and the Open University in Israel.
He is married to Rita, a social worker, and they have three children.