In a message to Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni of Rome, Pope Francis said he plans renewed cooperation to further Catholic-Jewish relations. CNS photo/Paul Hanna, Reuters

Pope pledges renewed cooperation; Jewish leaders praise election

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • March 20, 2013

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis said he plans renewed cooperation to further Catholic-Jewish relations and hopes to contribute to a world where all people live in harmony with the "will of the creator."

In a message to Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni of Rome, the pope said he "profoundly hopes to be able to contribute to the progress that Jewish-Catholic relations have seen starting from the Second Vatican Council, in a spirit of renewed collaboration."

He said he also hoped to be "at the service of a world that may grow in harmony with the will of the creator."

The pope sent his "cordial greetings" to the head of Rome's Jewish community the evening of his election March 13 and told the rabbi his installation Mass would be held March 19. The Vatican released a copy of the message to journalists March 15.

Rabbi di Segni, who attended the Mass, said the pope's reference to continuing the work begun with Vatican II was "very, very important."

"There are elements in the church that have put themselves on the fringes because they don't accept the council or they accept it in a very limited way," he told the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera March 19.

"To establish that our relationship cannot do without the council, which is at the foundation of (Catholic-Jewish relations), means to go forward rather than in reverse," said the rabbi.

After Pope Francis' election, the rabbi sent his best wishes to the new pope, saying he hoped his leadership would be graced with "strength and wisdom in the formidable task that has been entrusted" to him.

"In the past decades, Rome has been a privileged place where historical steps have been taken in Christian-Jewish relations," Rabbi di Segni wrote the pope.

Pope Francis' election as bishop of Rome "gives us the hope that the journey of friendship, respect and fruitful collaboration will continue," he wrote.

Israeli President Shimon Peres congratulated Pope Francis, inviting him "to pay a visit to the Holy Land at the earliest possibility."

"He'll be a welcome guest in the Holy Land, as a man of inspiration that can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area," he said in a written statement March 14.

"The relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people are now at their best in the last 2000 years and I hope they will grow in content and depths," the president said, adding that the new pope "represents devotion, the love of God, the love of peace, a holy modesty and a new continent which is now awakening."

"We need, more than ever, a spiritual leadership and not just a political one. Where political leaders may divide, spiritual leaders may unite: unite around a vision, unite around values, unite around a faith that we can make the world a better place to live. May the Lord bless the new pope," Peres wrote.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Pope Francis' election "a significant moment in the history of the church" that will foster positive relations in the wake of "the transformational papacies of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI -- pontiffs who launched historic reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people," he said in a March 13 statement.

"There is much in his record that reassures us about the future," Foxman said, including "the new pope's sensitivity to the Jews."

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