It was a symbolic gesture, to be sure, but it spoke volumes in response to the sentiment expressed here and elsewhere following the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI in February. As we said then: “We can only hope that the man who steps into the fisherman’s shoes continues the work begun at Vatican II, work that was carried out so faithfully by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.” (The “fisherman” is a reference to Peter, the apostle who is considered to be the first pope.)
Words people want to hear are often the words they do hear. How those words are spoken, however, can carry greater meaning.
The papal throne is “where the other popes used to sit,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, one of three local rabbis who participated in a recent visit to the Vatican to meet with the new head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. “He won’t sit on it. When he spoke to us, he was on our level.” (See the article on page 6.)
The words he spoke “on our level” included a commitment to continue to make progress in Catholic-Jewish relations, and a possible commitment to visit Israel (which, if he does, will make him the third pope in a row to do so, a historic first).
However, we recall our own words, written in March, following Francis’ stepping into Peter’s shoes:
“We would be remiss, however, to ignore the new pope’s possible ties to the oppressive rightist regimes that have ruled Argentina with an iron fist during his time there.
“The new pope has an amazing opportunity to allay some of the fears connected with that aspect of his tenure in Argentina…. He could openly condemn Argentina’s lack of serious progress in apprehending and bringing to justice the perpetrators of the 1994 bombing of the AsociaciÃ³n Mutual Israelita Argentina (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association). Argentina recently formed what must laughingly be called a ‘truth commission’ to identify the bombers who took 85 lives that day. It also signed on a partner to help ferret out the truth: the Islamic Republic of Iran, otherwise known as the most likely overall perpetrator of this act of terrorism.
“If Pope Francis really wants to demonstrate that (a) he will continue making progress in Catholic-Jewish relations, and (b) that he has no loyalties to the oppressive Argentine regime, let him condemn Argentina publicly and soon.”
We await hearing those words.