Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentinian cardinal who was elected pope this week and has taken the name Francis I, is said to have a good relationship with Argentinian Jews.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio, 76, attended Rosh Hashanah services at the Benei Tikva Slijot synagogue in September 2007.
Rabbi David Rosen, the director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee, 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.
After the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994, he “showed solidarity with the Jewish community,” Rosen said.
In 2005, Bergoglio was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He also was one of the signatories on a document called “85 victims, 85 signatures” as part of the bombing’s 11th anniversary. In June 2010, he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.
Israel Singer, the former head of the World Jewish Congress, said he spent time working with Bergoglio when the two were distributing aid to the poor in Buenos Aires in the early 2000s, part of a joint Jewish-Catholic program called Tzedaka.
“We went out to the barrios where Jews and Catholics were suffering together,” Singer said. “If everyone sat in chairs with handles, he would sit in the one without. He was always looking to be more modest. He’s going to find it hard to wear all these uniforms.”
Last November, Bergoglio hosted a Kristallnacht memorial event at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral with Rabbi Alejandro Avruj from the NCI-Emanuel World Masorti congregation.
He also has worked with the Latin American Jewish Congress and held meetings with Jewish youth who participate in its New Generations program.
“The Latin American Jewish Congress has had a close relationship with Jorge Bergoglio for several years,” said Claudio Epelman, executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress. “We know his values and strengths. We have no doubt he will do a great job leading the Catholic Church.” — jta