Pope Francis was declared 2013’s Time’s Person Of The Year. Looking back on 2013, he has done some incredibly progressive things to lead the Church, and this leads me to ask the question of whether or not the Catholic Church is ready for a huge shake-up in its relationship with Judaism.
1. He spoke out against frivolous spending by the Church.
The average set of cardinal’s clothes costs as much as $20,000. Pope Francis urged officials to dress more modestly and to not squander such money. He also ordered a German bishop to explain how he had spent $3 million on a marble courtyard.
2. He invited a boy with Downs Syndrome for a ride in the “Popemobile”.
During a general audience, Pope Francis invited Alberto di Tullio, a 17-year-old boy with Downs Syndrome, to ride in his Popemobile while thousands watched. The boy and his father were said to be “choked up” when he was embraced by the Pope.
In November, Pope Francis embraced Vinicio Riva, a man scarred by a genetic disease. Fighting agonising pain on a daily basis, such an act restored the faith of a man who says he is often mocked in public.
4. He denounced the judgment of homosexuals.
Pope Francis has stated several times that the Church has no right to interfere spiritually in the lives of gays and lesbians. Though Francis maintained the right of the Church to express opinions on homosexuality, he believed that Christians should not judge or ridicule. This led to The Advocate, a gay rights magazine, naming Francis the “single most influential person of 2013 on the lives of LGBT people.”
5. He held a major ceremony at the chapel of a youth prison.
In March, the Pope held a major Holy Week service at Casal del Marmo jail for minors, rather than the Vatican. During the service, the pope washed and kissed the feet of 12 young offenders to commemorate Jesus’ gesture of humility towards his apostles on the night before he died. During the service, he broke tradition by washing the feet of women and Muslims.
6. He urged the protection of the Amazon Rainforest.
During his visit to Brazil, Pope Francis met with natives who have been fighting ranchers and farmers attempting to invade their land. He encouraged the Amazon to be treated as a garden and protected, along with its native people.
7. He personally called and consoled a victim of rape.
A 44-year old Argentinian woman, raped by a local policeman, was one of thousands to write a letter to Pope Francis in 2013. The woman was surprised when she later received a phone call from Francis himself — who consoled the woman and told her, “You are not alone.”
It has been discovered that Pope Francis regularly leaves the Vatican at night to feed the homeless. Dressed as an ordinary priest, he joins Archbishop Konrad Krajewski to feed the poor of Rome.
9. He auctioned his motorcycle to benefit the homeless.
In October, Francis donated his own Harley Davidson motorcycle to fund a hostel and soup kitchen in Rome.
10. He acknowledged that atheists can be good people.
Earlier in 2013, Pope Francis spoke out against the common interpretation within the Church that atheists, by nature, are bad people. He stated that, “Atheists should be seen as good people if they do good.” After meeting the Pope, the openly atheist president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, compared Francis to a friendly neighbor.
11. He condemned the global financial system.
In May, Francis denounced the global financial system for tyrannizing the poor and turning humans into expendable consumer goods. He believes that, “Money has to serve, not to rule!”
12. He fought child abuse.
The Catholic Church has been rocked in recent years by allegations and admissions of child abuse by members of the Church. Pope Francis became the first Pope to take effective action against such atrocities. He amended Vatican law to make sexual abuse of children a crime, and he also established a committee to fight abuse.
13. He condemned the violence of the Syrian civil war.
In regard to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Pope Francis asked for peace and declared that, “War, never again. Violence never leads to peace, war leads to war, violence leads to violence.”
14. He redirected employee bonuses to charity.
When a new Pope is elected, Vatican employees receive a bonus. Upon his election, the extra money was given to directly to charity instead.
15. He spoke out against the Church’s ‘obsession’ with abortion, gay marriage and contraception.
Francis shocked the Catholic world when he stated that the Church was an unhealthy obsession with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. He criticized the Church for putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized.
16. He called for cooperation between Christians and Muslims.
During his Angelus address, Francis paid respect to the end of Ramadan. He stated that both Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and he hoped that Christians and Muslims would work together to promote mutual respect.
In a most progressive move, Pope Francis met with youngsters to be part of a truly remarkable selfie. He is embracing the present, and may undoubtedly taking the Church to a more loving and accepting future.
18. He invited homeless men to his birthday meal.
On December 17, Pope Francis invited a group of homeless men and their dog into the Vatican to share his birthday meal along with his staff. The Pope had decided that he wanted a small birthday event, which would do some good, rather than a large and expensive event.
19. He refused to send away a child who had run on stage to hug him.
During the Year of Faith Celebrations, a young boy ran on stage as the Pope was giving a speech. When assistants tried to remove the boy, Francis allowed him to stay.
As a member of the Jewish faith I have always looked upon the Catholic Church with a combination of hope, mistrust, trepidation and impatience.
The mistrust and trepidation is based on the countless centuries of Church sponsored and institutionalized anti-Semitism through the middle ages, World War II and the 20th Century. The hope and impatience is akin to taking two steps forward and one step back which stems from initiatives of Pope John XXIII who attempted to reset Catholic-Jewish relations in the 1960s by seeking to reconcile the grievances of the past, and John Paul II’s 1994 statement, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, which attempted to absolve the Church of any blame, and only offered a mea culpa for the role of Christians in the Holocaust. Many feel that this was insufficient, as it focused on individual members of the Church who helped the Nazis, portraying them as acting against the teachings of the Church.
When all is said and done, Pope Francis may represent a new chapter of creating a deeper understanding and friendship between Jews and Catholics. This, as any relationship would have to be built on mutual respect.
In saying this, the Pope’s relationship with Jews in Buenos Aires may reveal a relationship the Catholic Church and the Jewish religion that has never been seen before. He had, and continues to have a deep and close relationship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Buenos Aires’ Latin American Rabbinical Seminary.
In 2010, together, they published a book called On Heaven and Earth, revealing their interreligious dialogue on 29 different topics. Their book also discusses how they feel dialogue should be conducted: by becoming acquainted with the person, viewing him as having something good to say, but not compromising one’s different identity while finding common ground together. To me this signifies mutual respect.
Rabbi Skorka has said about the Pope that: “He’s a respectful person who respects me, really, in everything he says. He’s a lovely person, very simple and highly spiritual.”
The Pope and Rabbi Skorka made history by sharing meals and praying together during Sukkot and Sabbath at the Vatican — making Pope Francis perhaps the first bishop of Rome to do so, since St. Peter . Now he intends to visit the Holy Land, and with him will be his friend Rabbi Skorka. The two religious leaders plan to embrace each other in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall and will go together to Bethlehem, in the Palestinian territories, to visit Jesus’ birthplace.
This gesture could send a very powerful message for dialogue and peace for not only for Judaism, but also for Israel and Palestine, and the entire Middle East, which has been the epicenter of so much violence and conflict.
Some time ago, Ron Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress had met with Pope Francis to share Jewish concerns that the Polish government intended to curtail their religious liberty by banning the kosher slaughter of animals. Within a month, the Polish bishops were speaking out against the legislation, and Poland’s government has subsequently pledged to reverse the law.
He proclaimed “a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic,” emphasizing how much Jews and Catholics have common roots and share much as a consequence. He also fulfilled the Vatican’s refusal to give Nazi war criminal and Holocaust-denier Erich Priebke a public Church funeral.
Since World War II, greatest point of distrust of the Catholic Church by Jews throughout the world has been centred around the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. This distrust has festered as a result of the Church’s actions to open, or limit the full and complete opening of all its documents during this period. This distrust will more than likely continue and be a barrier to complete and open dialogue between the two religions until such time as these documents are fully opened up.
Hopefully, Pope Francis will continue the dialogue of mutual respect and fulfill this final step.