Pope Francis and Jewish-Christian Relations
14 March 2013
As the first Argentine Pope, Francis comes from a country where there are 230,000 Jews in a country of 37 million, of whom 80 per cent are Catholic. The new Pope is likely to follow in the footsteps of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He was appointed cardinal by John Paul II in 2001 and is a Latin American with Italian roots, who studied in Germany. His spoken English is good.
As far as Christian-Jewish relations are concerned, he has participated in the meetings organised by the Latin American Council of Bishops, the Anti-Defamation League and the Latin American Jewish Congress. He was praised by the Jewish community for his compassionate response to one of the worst antisemitic attacks in Latin America: the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a seven-story building housing the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the Delegation of the Argentine Jewish Association.
He delivered a major address at a meeting of International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Buenos Aires in 2004 on the theme Tzedeq and Tzedeqa (Justice and Charity) and encouraged all participants to the site of the devastating bombing. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio attended Rosh Hashanah services at the Benei Tikva Slijot synagogue in 2007.
Whatever changes he is intending, the important gains in Catholic-Jewish relations since Nostra Aetate in 1965, and especially since the election Pope John Paul II, are not in danger.
Pope Francis will appeal to conservatives as a man who had held the line against liberalising currents, and to moderates as a symbol of the church's commitment to the developing world. His desire for personal simplicity - he chose to live in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop's palace - and his support for social justice are likely to be features of his papacy. As for relations with Jews, they are likely to remain warm and to receive personal encouragement from the new Pope.