….given the rising urgency of pursuing a dialogue with Islam, it was hardly obvious that Benedict’s successor in Rome would promote the church’s relationship with Judaism with the same focus and zeal, especially if the new pope came from outside Europe.
As it turned out, the College of Cardinals could not have elected a man with a clearer commitment to Catholic-Jewish relations than Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Hannukah in local synagogues, voiced solidarity with Jewish victims of terrorism, and co-written a book with a prominent rabbi. Touching on one of the most sensitive points in the relationship between Catholics and Jews, Bergoglio had called for the Vatican to open its archives from the pontificate of Pius XII, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, to address lingering questions about whether the wartime pope had done or said enough to oppose the Nazi genocide.
It is relevant in this connection that the new pope comes from Buenos Aires, the city with the largest Jewish community in the Southern Hemisphere. No pope since the church’s early centuries has come from a society as culturally diverse as modern Argentina, which Francis has celebrated for its blend of ethnicities and religions.