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Local Couple Secures Pope’s Personal Blessing of Crucifix for Ailing Catholic Friend

by Norma Zager

November 22, 2006 | 7:00 pm

Local Couple Secures Pope's Personal Blessing of Crucifix for Ailing Catholic Friend

Civic activists and philanthropists Faith and Jonathan Cookler recently returned from an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Leadership Mission led by Abraham Foxman, ADL national director, to meet with political, religious and community leaders in Rome, Paris (where Foxman was presented with the Legion of Honor by President Jacques Chirac) and Berlin.

Faith Cookler told an amazing story about the trip, beginning with a phone call from her brother, Ron Pepperman, an educator in Northern California: "A colleague of his, a 38-year-old mother and devout Catholic from the Philippines, is seriously ill with cancer. Since our delegation was scheduled to have a private audience with Pope Benedict, she asked if we could present a crucifix to him for a blessing."

Cookler said when she arrived in Rome, they learned it is customary to bring religious artifacts for the pope's group blessing at both public and private audiences. Cookler said on the morning of the audience, their 30-member delegation was seated facing an elevated thronelike chair.

"The religious artifacts were gathered and put on a silver platter for a group blessing," she said. "We opted to hold on to our envelope containing the precious cross."

Cookler said Pope Benedict entered the room clad in white robes, white skullcap and red Prada slippers.

"Mr. Foxman opened his remarks with a heartfelt and emotional request to bless the memory of the Catholic woman who took him in and raised him as a Catholic during the Holocaust, thereby saving his life," she recounted.

According to Cookler, Pope Benedict unequivocally reaffirmed that the church deplores all forms of hatred or persecution directed against the Jews and all displays of anti-Semitism at any time and from any source.

"He also noted that we need to know each other better and build relationships not just of tolerance but of authentic respect," Cookler said. "In a clear allusion to the reaction to his remarks regarding the Muslim community, he stated that Jews, Christians and Muslims share many common convictions, and there are numerous areas of humanitarian and social engagement in which we can and must co-operate."

Cookler said when it was their turn to greet the pope, her husband showed him the crucifix from the sick woman and explained the situation. The pope smiled and blessed it on the spot.

"We FedExed the envelope to my brother, who delivered the contents to the woman's home just as she was returning from the hospital after enduring another round of treatment," Cookler said. "Ron told us she appeared weak and frail but rallied when he presented her with the envelope and the photos of the pope blessing her crucifix. We felt very blessed and honored to be the intermediaries on both the world stage and a very intimate personal one."

Black And White Ball

Nostalgia reigned supreme as the Beverly Hills Police Officers Association held its 18th annual "Black and White Ball" at the Beverly Hilton Nov. 6. Mayor Steve Webb acted as master of ceremonies at the event, one of the best attended in the city's history, hosting 1,000 guests. More than $250,000 was raised, a portion of which goes to the association's medical trust fund.

This year's event coincided with the 100th anniversary celebration of law enforcement in Beverly Hills. The evening's highlights included the police chief's presentation of the department's annual achievement winners and a stroll down memory lane with a performance by The Platters-Live. By the end of the evening, guests were dancing in the aisles a la "American Bandstand" days. Oy, wish I owned the Ben Gay concession the next morning.

Violence Fighters

It was an evening to remember when Mid-Wilshire Domestic Violence Prevention Collaborative honored nine individuals who have dedicated themselves tirelessly to raising awareness of domestic violence in Los Angeles, especially in underserved communities where information on the issue has been largely unavailable.

The collaborative, a joint venture led by Jewish Family Service's Family Violence Project, presented the awards at a ceremony at the West Hollywood Community Center, where West Hollywood Councilwoman Abbe Land served as moderator. Among the honored guests were Los Angeles City Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge and West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman.

According to Debi Biederman, community outreach and network coordinator for the Family Violence Project and co-chair of the collaborative, the goal of the awards is "to inspire other community members to get involved, follow the example set by those being honored and raise awareness of domestic violence within populations which have long lacked services and resources. In many of these communities, the subject is rarely discussed openly."

Honored at the event were: Johanna Gomez, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; Lynda Basile Stack, African immigrant community; Imelda Talamantes, Latino community; Joni Schact, Orthodox Jewish community; Rabeya Sen, Southeast Asian community; Nadia Babayi, Iranian community; Don Laffoon, Iranian community; Susan Millmann of Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, social service award recipient; and Kimberly Wong, honored for outstanding service by a public agency/public employee to the underserved communities.

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