World Jewish Congress President Ronald S.Lauder (L) met then-Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires in 2008.
NEW YORK/BUENOS AIRES/ROME (EJP)---Jewish organisations leaders welcomed the new Pope Francis I who was elected at the Vatican on Wednesday by the 115 Catholic cardinals following Pope Benedict's resignation last month.
The new 76-year-old pope, who is a Jesuit, is the former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Buenos Aires. He is the first non-European pope. He will lead a Catholic church with 1.2 billion followers. He is the 266th pope.
“On behalf of the World Jewish Congress and our affiliated Jewish communities and organizations in 100 countries world-wide I warmly congratulate Cardinal Bergoglio on his election as new pope. We look forward to continuing the close relationship that has been fostered between the Catholic Church and the Jews over the past two decades, » said WJC President Ronald S.Lauder, who met him personally in Buenos Aires in 2008.
“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. I personally met with him in Buenos Aires in June 2008. He always had an open ear for our concerns. By choosing such an experienced man, someone who is known for his open-mindedness, the cardinals have sent an important signal to the world. I am sure that Pope Francis I will continue to be a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths. »
Lauder continued : “During the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, Catholic-Jewish relations reached unprecedented levels. This was due to the determination of the pope to continue the work of his predecessor, John Paul II. 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. »
"We hope that Pope Francis I will soon be able to meet with us to discuss the challenges that lie ahead.”.
Cardinal Bergoglio is reported to have had several Jewish connections while he was a cardinal in Buenos Aires.
Last November, he was the keynote speaker at B’nai B’rith’s Krystallnacht commemoration in Buenos Aires, where he helped light the menorah.
“We welcome Pope Francis I to his new role as leader of the Catholic Church,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “Catholic-Jewish relations had remained a focus of Pope Benedict XVI and we look forward to continuing the solid foundation that already exists for interfaith dialogue.”
“We have been encouraged by the historic progress in Catholic-Jewish relations,” said B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “Interfaith dialogue, stressing tolerance and mutual respect, is increasingly important in today’s world.”
Bergoglio is said to have had good relations with Argentinian Jews. He was praised by local and American Jewish leaders for his prompt response to the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA).
In 2005, Bergoglio reportedly signed a joint statement against terrorism together with Jose Adaszko of the Israel Mutual Association of Argentina, and Omar Helal Massud of the Islamic Center, with an emphasis on preventing attacks such as the 1994 bombing.
In June 2010, he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.
In a statement, the Anti Defamation League (ADL) listed then-Cardinal Bergoglio 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," ADL’s National Director Abraham Foxman said.
Rabbi David Rosen, the director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said 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.