The election of Pope Francis offers special promise to the strengthening of Catholic-Jewish relations and to interfaith dialogue.
Many examples have been provided by the Argentinean Jewish community of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s leadership and unprecedented engagement with the Jewish community, including attending and participating in Selihot services and Kristallnacht commemorations, signing a petition calling for justice in the AMIA bombing case, arranging for a rabbi to receive an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Argentina, and ensuring that a Holocaust memorial was erected in the main Roman Catholic Church in Argentina.
Pope Francis is the first pope to have coauthored a book with a rabbi; About the Heaven and the Earth was written with Rabbi Abraham Sorka, rector of the Latin-American Rabbinical Seminary. Upon being elected pope, one of his first actions was to send a letter to the chief rabbi of Rome stating, “I eagerly hope to be able to contribute to the progress that relations between Jews and Christians have experienced since the SecondVatican Council….”
In his essay “No Religion Is an Island,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “On what basis do we people of different religious commitments meet one another? First and foremost we meet as human beings who have so much in common.” At the College of Saint Elizabeth, the Jewish roots of Christianity are acknowledged, taught, and respected, and the work that Sr. Kathleen Flanagan and I have done as codirectors of CSE’s Holocaust Education Resource Center demonstrates a powerful example of this. Sr. Francis Raftery, S.C., president of the college, has been committed throughout her tenure to supporting the work of our center in teaching about Jews and Judaism, the Holocaust, and Israel.
For those seeking to understand the implications of new leadership at the Vatican, perhaps having a new pope, also named Francis, is a good sign!
Dr. Harriet Sepinwall
Holocaust Education Resource Center
The College of Saint Elizabeth