Pope Francis and the Jews

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“We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It’s true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old…” – Pope Francis

Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, The Pope’s father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has four brothers and sisters. His plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature, psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.

The Pope has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.

“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” the Pope said during a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”

The Pope is seen as an unwavering orthodox on matters of sexual morality, staunchly opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. In 2010 he asserted that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, earning a public rebuke from Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Nevertheless, he has shown deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS; in 2001, he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients.

The Pope also won high marks for his compassionate response to 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. It was one of the worst anti-Jewish attacks ever in Latin America, and in 2005 Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, praised the Pope’s leadership. “He was very concerned with what happened, Ehrenkranz said. “He’s got experience.”

On Monday, November 12, the Cathedral of Buenos Aires hosted hundreds of people who attended the B’nai B’rith Argentina commemoration of Krystallnacht. Pope Francis lead the event, which was attended by high representatives of the Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Catholic Churches. Rabbi Alejandro Avruj from the Conservative Synagogue Emanu-El leaded the Jewish attendance and gave the Pope a Sidur at the end of the commemoration.

And in December 2012, Argentine Catholics and Jews came together to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas at a ceremony attended by Pope Francis. >Click here< to watch the video.

(Content and photo sources include: JewishNewsOne, National Catholic Register and B’nai B’rith International)

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