Spring is the season of hope, a time of rejuvenation and new beginnings. So how perfect that the Catholic Church has chosen their 266th pope at this time of year. By now the naming of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new pope, Pope Francis, is old news but there are a couple of things that I have read about this man that does indeed offer a renewed hope. This pope appears to be different from other popes; for one thing he is the first pope to come out of Latin America, which is interesting but really matters little in the scheme of things.
A more important distinction in this particular pope is his unusual humility. He travels by bus and when appointed a cardinal he chose to give up the lavish cardinal’s residence in the Argentine capital for a modest small apartment, and rejected the notion of a chauffeur driven car for public transportation. Immediately after his election he turned down the special sedan that was to transport him to the hotel and instead rode on the bus with the other cardinals. During his first day as pontiff, Pope Francis stopped by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay the bill himself.
He appears to be a real man of the people, well known for his work with the poor in Buenos Aires’ slums. As cardinal he would celebrate Masses with homeless people and prostitutes in Buenos Aires. He believes that the church needs to reach out to the people and he considers social outreach to be the essential business of the church. Staying in touch with his congregants seems to be a major part of who he has been throughout his time in service to God.
And then there is this, on March 13th the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) welcomed the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as the next Pope Francis I, applauding his close relationship with the Jewish community.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director said the following in a statement, “We congratulate the new Pope and wish him well in his important new responsibility. We believe that the election of Francis I is a significant moment in the history of the Church. We look forward to working with him to continue to foster Catholic-Jewish relations as we have with his predecessors. There is much in his record that reassures us about the future.”
Foxman went on to say, “Under his leadership in Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio made important strides in maintaining positive Catholic-Jewish relations following the transformational papacies of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI – pontiffs who launched historic reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
“Cardinal Bergoglio maintained a close relationship with the Jewish community in Argentina. He has celebrated various Jewish holidays with the Argentinean Jewish community, including Chanukah where he lit a candle on the menorah, attended a Buenos Aires synagogue for Slichot, a pre-Rosh Hashanah service, the Jewish New Year, as well as a commemoration of Kristallnacht, the wave of violent Nazi attacks against Jews before World War II.
“In 2010, during a commemoration of the 1994 bombing of that synagogue, Cardinal Bergoglio called it ‘a house of solidarity’ and added ‘God bless them and help them accomplish their work,’ which showed his dedication and support in standing up against extremism.
“In 2010, he together with Argentinean Rabbi Abraham Skorka, published the book On Heaven and Earth addressing issues of interfaith dialogue. The new Pope’s sensitivity to the Jews emerges from this work in his comments on the Church’s approach to the Jewish people since Vatican II, the Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice, and bigotry toward the Jewish people, so a statement of endorsement such as this one isn’t exactly chopped liver coming from its national director.
As a Jewish man I am encouraged by Director Foxman’s statement. At this Passover season it is gladdening and inspiring to think that this pope may bring a new level of Catholic-Jewish understanding and togetherness to our world. Anyway, it is something to hope for. And this is the season of hope after all.