NEW YORK (CNS) — Rabbi Arthur Schneier, senior rabbi of Park East Synagogue in Manhattan and founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, was conferred as a papal knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Sylvester Pope and Martyr.

The honor was conferred in ceremonies April 27 by New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, hosted the event.

“Pope Francis is bestowing the honor on Rabbi Arthur Schneier who has worked unceasingly to promote peace and mutual understanding, in the firm conviction that respect for fundamental human rights, including religious freedom, are indispensable values for all peoples of the world to enjoy peace, security and shared prosperity,” Archbishop Auza said in a statement. “A Holocaust survivor, Rabbi Schneier has always held this conviction in his heart and made it a principle of life.”

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation has worked on issues of religious freedom and human rights since it was founded by Rabbi Schneier in 1965.

The honor is given for the contributions of laypeople to the life of the Catholic Church. The order is one of five orders of knighthood within the Catholic Church.

The Vienna-born Rabbi Schneier, 85, survived the Holocaust in Budapest, Hungary, and arrived in the United States in 1947. He has been senior rabbi of Park East Synagogue since 1962.

Rabbi Schneier, in a statement, noted that “the rare honor” Pope Francis bestowed upon him “marks the 50th anniversary of my meetings in the Vatican and the beginning of the cooperation between the Holy See and the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in helping advance religious freedom and human rights.”

“It is also the year that we celebrate the 50th anniversary of ‘Nostra Aetate,'” the landmark Vatican II document, which the rabbi called “a turning point in Catholic-Jewish relations.”

Nostra Aetate is the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with the Jews, Muslims and other religions

“The visit of St. Pope Paul John Paul II to the Rome synagogue, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to synagogues in Europe as well as Park East Synagogue, the first papal visit to a synagogue in the United States, are historic events that have contributed to the evolving relationship between Catholic Church and the Jewish people,” Rabbi Schneier said. “I am greatly honored to be recognized by his holiness, a voice of conscience who has embraced humanity with his outreach, compassion, love and mercy to all of God’s children.”