New pope hopes for ‘renewed collaboration’ with Jews

Francis I begins tenure by sending friendly letter to Rome’s chief rabbi

Pope Francis I waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (photo credit:AP/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis I waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (photo credit:AP/Gregorio Borgia)

The newly elected pope expressed hopes to resume collaboration with the Jews, in a letter sent to Rome’s chief rabbi on Francis I’s first day as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires, who is known to have good relationships with Jews, was elected to the post by a conclave of cardinals in the Vatican on Wednesday.

Bergoglio, 76, a Jesuit, was the choice of the College of Cardinals following two days of voting in Vatican City. He is the first pope to come from outside Europe — reflecting the changing demographics of Catholics, he comes from Latin America.

“I sincerely hope I can contribute to the progress there has been in relations between Jews and Catholics since the Second Vatican Council in a spirit of renewed collaboration,” the pope was quoted by AFP as saying, in reference to a landmark council from the 1960s.

Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, embraced the election of Bergoglio, and said: “As far as I have heard and read in the few minutes since he was elected pope, he has shown deep signs of respect and friendship towards the Jews.”

“It’s a good starting point,” Di Segni was quoted by the Religion News Service as saying.

Earlier, President Shimon Peres invited the new pope to visit Israel, asking him to contribute to peace as a spiritual, rather than a political, leader.

“He’ll be a welcome guest in the Holy Land, as a man of inspiration who can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area,” Peres said during a meeting with the leaders of the Catholic Church in Poland on Thursday. “All people here, without exception, without difference of religion or nationality, will welcome the newly elected pope.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also congratulated the new pope, expressing his certainty that “the relationship between Jews and Christians, as well as the relationship between Israel and the Vatican, would continue to be strengthened.”

A statement by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate on Thursday echoed the amicable tone surrounding the appointment, stating it is positive that cooperation with the newly elected pope would be as positive as it was with the previous two Catholic leaders.

“For the past 12 years there has been a rich and productive dialogue between the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Vatican,” read the statement issued by the religious authority. Cooperation was close on various important matters, it said, including “forbidding the use of God’s name to justify acts of terror, the sanctity of life and the holiness of the family unit.”

Stuart Winer and JTA contributed to this report. 

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