Pope Francis good for Jews, says advocacy leader

Instinctively close

Pope Francis understands Jews, is sensitive to the issues, and will be a voice to continue to make the relationship more open, says the veteran head of prominent Jewish advocacy group, the Anti-Defamation League.

- John Allen/The Boston Globe

Abraham Foxman has been national director of the Anti-Defamation League, one of America’s most visible Jewish advocacy organisations since 1987. He has seen a lot of water under the bridge in the years since Vatican II in the relationship between Catholicism and what Pope John Paul II called the Church’s 'elder brothers.'

He leads an annual delegation to Rome for talks with Vatican officials and spoke recently about his impressions of Pope Francis and the Pontiff’s coming trip in May to Israel.

What do you think of the new Pope?

We couldn’t have wished or hoped for a better pope for the Jewish people. Of course, first and foremost he’ll serve the Catholic world and the Christian world.
Why is he good for Jews?

We were concerned after the death of John Paul II that the Vatican might feel he was an aberration, that his interest in Jews was because he came from Poland, because he’d experienced the war, and so on. Then came the successor, Benedict XVI, who actually institutionalised the changes vis-à-vis the Jewish community that John Paul had initiated. Our concern was, now what? How ongoing will it really be?

Then we woke up to a pope who didn’t wait to become pope before going to a synagogue, because he went to the synagogue as the Cardinal of Buenos Aires and had a great relationship with the Jewish community. Here’s a pope who even went to synagogue on slichot [a festival that marks the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] . . . most Jews don’t even know what slichot is! That’s how close he felt, so I think we’re comfortable that he understands us, that he has a sensitivity to the issues, and that he’ll be a voice to continue to make the relationship more open.

Why should Jews care who the Pope is or what the Catholic Church thinks?

Unfortunately, because of history. What the popes said, what Christianity said, had a great impact on the persecution of the Jews. Whether it was the Inquisition, or the expulsion of Jews, or even the level of anti-Semitism, the popes and Christianity set the tone as to whether the Jews had vitality and even viability. Today more than a billion people listen to what the pope says, what the Vatican says, and they still set the tone in terms of respect or disrespect. It’s very, very important.

The Pope is going to Israel in May. If he calls you on the phone and says, 'Abe, give me some advice,' what do you tell him?

I would walk in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II. He understood the sensitive emotional issues. Yad Vashem is important, the Western Wall is important, the message of forgiveness is important.

FULL STORY ADL head says Jews have friend in Pope Francis (The Bostone Globe)

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