The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) along with the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Wednesday welcomed Cardinal Jorge María Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, on his election as Pope Francis I.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, said he was “reassured” over the record of the new Pope, stating that Bergoglio was crucial in maintaing “positive Catholic-Jewish relations.”
In a statement, ADL listed his celebration of Jewish holidays in Argentina, quoting Chanukah as an example of his commitment to his inter-faith relations.
“He lit a candle on the menorah, attended a Buenos Aires synagogue for Slichot, a pre-Rosh Hashana service, the Jewish New Year, as well as a commemoration of Kristallnacht, the wave of violent Nazi attacks against Jews before World War II,” Foxman said.
The ADL also cited his “dedication and support in standing up against extremism” in the new Pope’s response to the 1994 bombing on an Argentinian Jewish center.
Rabbi David Rosen, the director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told JTA that the new pope is a “warm and sweet and modest man” known in Buenos Aires for doing his own cooking and personally answering his phone.After the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994, he “showed solidarity with the Jewish community,” Rosen said.
In 2005, Bergoglio was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He also was one of the signatories on a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures” as part of the bombing’s 11th anniversary. In June 2010, he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.
“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 said.
Meanwhile, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder congratulated Cardinal Jorge María Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, on his election as Pope Francis I on Wednesday.
“Pope Francis I is no stranger to us. In recent years he attended many inter-faith events co-organized by the WJC and our regional affiliate, the Latin American Jewish Congress,” he wrote, adding he had met him in Buenos Aires in 2008.
Lauder praised the new pope as “an experienced man, someone who is known for his open-mindedness…a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths”.
“We look forward to continuing the close relationship that has been fostered between the Catholic Church and the Jews over the past two decades.”
After praising the work of Popes John Paul and Benedict for Catholic-Jewish relations, Lauder said: “We are convinced that new pontiff will continue on this path, that he will speak out against all forms of anti-Semitism both within and without the Catholic Church, that he will take action against clerics who deny or belittle the Holocaust, and that he will strengthen the Vatican’s relationship with Israel.”
He also has worked with the Latin American Jewish Congress and held meetings with Jewish youth who participate in its New Generations program.
“The Latin American Jewish Congress has had a close relationship with Jorge Bergoglio for several years,” Claudio Epelman, executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, told JTA. “We know his values and strengths. We have no doubt he will do a great job leading the Catholic Church.”
Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, offered Italian Jewry’s congratulations to the new pope with the “most fervent wishes” that his pontificate could bring “peace and brotherhood to all humanity.”In particular, Gattegna voiced the hope that there would be a continuation “with reciprocal satisfaction” of “the intense course of dialogue that the Jews have always hoped for and that has been also realized through the work of the popes who have led the church in the recent past.”
JTA contributed to this report.