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Pope Francis fosters good relations, Jewish groups say

March 15, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • A woman walks past a picture of Pope Francis Friday at the Vatican.
A woman walks past a picture of Pope Francis Friday at the Vatican. (Giuseppe Cacace / Agence…)

Pope Francis won praise from Jewish leaders after his election this week to lead the Roman Catholic Church, a promising sign for future relations between two faiths with a troubled history.

Several Jewish leaders said the new pope, who is from Argentina, already had a record of fostering good relations.

“Pope Francis has demonstrated his profound solidarity with the Jewish community in Argentina in both times of sorrow and joy,” Rabbi David Rosen, international director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee advocacy group, said in a statement.

Claudio Epelman, director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, said in a statement, "We know his virtues and we have no doubt that he will do a great job as head of the church."

During his years as Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, the pope was lauded for his reaction to the deadly bombing of a Jewish center in 1994, an event he told Argentine media was “another link in the chain of pain and persecution that God’s chosen people has suffered throughout history.” He made headlines by signing a 2005 petition demanding justice for the unsolved crime.

Bergoglio also co-hosted a memorial event to the attacks on Jews during Kristallnacht and worked regularly with the Latin American Jewish Congress, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency. As archbishop, he appeared regularly on a television show with Rabbi Abraham Skorka and an evangelical host to discuss interfaith matters. In a recent book, the two exchanged views about how Pope Pius XII acted during the Holocaust and other sensitive subjects, handling the tense topics as friends.

“Fifty years ago this dialogue would have been impossible,” Rabbi Skorka told the Argentine newspaper Clarin.

Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, also reached out to the Jewish community as pontiff. His decisions to reverse the excommunication of four bishops, one of whom downplayed the Holocaust, and move Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood frustrated Jewish groups, but “his was a memorable papacy of mostly positive relations with the Jews,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman wrote.

Now that Pope Francis has been chosen, “those who said Benedict was the last pope who would be a pope that lived through the Shoah, or that said there would not be another pope who had a personal connection to the Jewish people, they were wrong,” Rosen told the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

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