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A Man for All Seasons

March 20, 2013
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The new pope was a topic of conversation at Saint Joseph University’s joint Jewish-Catholic seder, held on March 17, in Philadelphia.

The proximity of Passover and Easter this year seems notable in a period that has also seen the election of a new pope. As JTA correspondent Ruth Ellen Gruber writes from Rome, it was not only Catholics all over the world who were holding their breath until the pope was chosen; many Jews were, too.

What if the man tapped for the job was a non-European who knew nothing about Jews and less about the Holocaust, she posited. Would the considerable advances in Catholic-Jewish relations in recent years be derailed? Would this new world leader with boundless influence turn his back on the progress his predecessors had made in this realm?

First reports suggest there is no need to worry. Pope Francis, the 76-year-old Jesuit and former archbishop of Buenos Aires, has had what appears to be a long and positive relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina.

He attended services at a Buenos Aires synagogues and expressed solidarity with the local community in the wake of the 1994 AMIA bombing that killed 85 people. World Jewish leaders who have met him are also singing his praises.

These mutual feelings of trust give one comfort in this season, a time when our two major faiths share contiguous holidays that are also related symbolically. How often have we been reminded that Jesus’ Last Supper was most likely a Passover seder?

But historically, Easter has been a problematic time for Jews. The week including Good Friday, which marks Jesus’ death, and Easter, which marks the Christian belief in his resurrection, was a period when Christians perpetrated some of the worst violence against their Jewish neighbors. It was a time when, for instance, the “blood libel” accused Jews of murdering Christian children to use their blood for baking Passover matzah.

The Catholic Church has long since renounced its teaching that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death and relations between the two faiths have improved dramatically. As Philip A. Cunningham, head of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University, makes clear in his opinion piece this week:

“The past five decades have seen an irreversible sea change in the official Catholic stance toward Judaism that will shape any
future pope,” he wrote, adding that “it is now standard Catholic teaching that anti-Semitism is a sin against God” and that “Christians must respect Jewish self-understanding.”

The naming of Pope Francis appears to bode well for Catholic-Jewish relations. It’s one more step in the long road toward understanding that is especially welcome as we sit down for our Pass­over seders next week.

A sweet and happy Pesach to all!

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