World Jews welcome Pope Francis
Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina hailed as close friend of Jewish community in Buenos Aires. 'He is a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths,' says WJC President Ron Lauder, who is convinced new pontiff will speak out against all forms of anti-Semitism
Jewish organizations worldwide welcomed his election and expect to see him strengthen the relationship between the Jewish community and the Vatican and continue the work of Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
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Bergoglio, who took the name Francis I, has a long history with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires from the time he served as the city's archbishop.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), in September 2007 he attended Rosh Hashana services at the Benei Tikva Slijot synagogue in the Argentinean capital.
Rabbi David Rosen, the director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told JTA that the new pope was a "warm and sweet and modest man" known in Buenos Aires for doing his own cooking and personally answering his phone.
New pope on balcony of St. Peter's Basilica (Photo: AFP)
Argentineans celebrate election (Photo: Reuters)
Rosen added that after the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, Bergoglio "showed solidarity with the Jewish community."
According to JTA, in 2005 Bergoglio was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. In June 2010, he even visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.
The World Jewish Congress congratulated Bergoglio as well, referring to him as "a man of dialogue."
WJC President Ron Lauder said that he had met Pope Francis in Buenos Aires in 2008.
"Pope Francis I is no stranger to us. In recent years he attended many interfaith events co-organized by the WJC and our regional affiliate, the Latin American Jewish Congress," Lauder wrote.
He 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."
Argentinean flag outside Sistine Chapel (Photo: Reuters)
'Sweet and modest man' (Photo: AP)
Lauder added that he believed Pope Francis would continue Popes John Paul and Benedict's work for Catholic-Jewish relations.
"We are convinced that the 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."
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Jewish Press website: “We have every reason to be confident Pope Francis I will be a staunch defender of the historic Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council, which forever changed the relationship of the Catholic Church and the Jewish people."
On Wednesday, Bergoglio became the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years. Pope Francis, 76, appeared on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica just over an hour after white smoke poured from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel to signal 115 cardinal electors had chosen him to lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Reuters contributed to this report