The intimate relationship between Judaism and Catholicism is beautifully expressed in the life of Rabbi Israel Zolli.
Rabbi Zolli was born in 1881 and became the Chief Rabbi of Rome beginning in 1939. When the Nazis occupied Rome, they commanded Rabbi Zolli to pay them tribute of fifteen kilograms of gold. Failure to comply would result in the deportation of the Jewish population of Rome. Unable to produce the required gold, Rabbi Zolli called upon Pope Pius XII for help. Pius XII graciously gave the needed gold to Rabbi Zolli, and the Jews of Rome were spared.
Not long after this episode, Rabbi Zolli saw a vision of Rabbi Jesus as he celebrated Judaism’s most solemn holy day—Yom Kippur. Jesus said to Rabbi Zolli, “You are here for the last time. From now on you will follow Me.” Later that evening, his wife confided to him that she too had seen a vision during the Yom Kippur liturgy: “Today while you were before the Ark of the Torah, it seemed to me as if the white figure of Jesus put His hands on your head as if to bless you.” His daughter Miriam also confided to her father that Jesus Christ had visited her in a dream.
The following year on February 13, 1945, Rabbi Zolli received baptism and became a Catholic Christian. In gratitude to Pope Pius XII who had dutifully protected the Roman Jews, Rabbi Zolli took as his Christian name “Eugenio,” the Christian name of Pius XII before he had been elected pope. Zolli later explained:
I can accept only that Church which was preached to all creatures by my own forefathers, the Twelve Apostles, who, like me, issued from the Synagogue.
Rabbi Zolli and his family experienced what Saint Paul and the Apostles had experienced—the Rabbi named Jesus was the fulfillment of their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was not a new religion, but the climax of the covenant that God had established with Abraham. The Old Covenant awaited the New.
Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:44-47).