Yom Shabbat, 23 Av 5779
Saturday, 24 August 2019
Pope Francis: the Tikkun Olam Pope? PDF Print E-mail

THE ELECTION of Pope Francis has been warmly received by Jewish communities. Regardless of its particular traditions and allegiances, humanity stands to gain from effective spiritual leaders who have a positive vision of the future and can make the world a better place – especially when they can set a personal example.

The leadership of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) – of which Liberal Judaism is a vital part – said that the Pope’s election was a strong indication of the changing dynamics within the Catholic Church. In common with other observers, the WUPJ highlighted his personal qualities as a sign of how he might carry out his new role, saying: “This humble priest brings sincerity and hope to Christianity and all people of faith.” Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, went a step further, saying: “We need, more than ever, a spiritual leadership and not just a political one. Where political leaders may divide, spiritual leaders may unite. Unite around a vision, unite around values, unite around a faith that we can make the world a better place to live.”

Not surprisingly, Pope Francis has already been invited to visit Israel. As Dr Ed Kessler of the Woolf Institute wrote in the Jewish Chronicle, Pope Francis is likely to further strengthen relations between Catholics and Jews. He predicted: “Whatever changes he is intending, the important gains in Catholic-Jewish relations since Nostra Aetate in 1965, and especially since the election of Pope John Paul II, are not in danger.”

One of his earliest decisions was to write to Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, expressing his desire to work together. Pope Francis’ commitment is already there to see. As a cardinal, he showed compSaveassion to Argentina’s Jewish community and demanded justice after the bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires. He supported the erection of a memorial to that bombing and to the victims of the Holocaust.

Pope Francis is not from the left. As Dr Kessler and others have explained, he will appeal to both conservatives and moderates. One Argentinian contact remarked that whatever his politics, his personal ethic is powerful, not least because of the humility with which he demonstrates it. He told me: “He was preoccupied with having ‘consistency’ between what he says and how he acts. He never wanted to live in the bishop’s house. He travelled by bus.”

Another contact said that Pope Francis can be unorthodox in his conduct of services, adding: “After a terrible train accident with many fatalities, he held a special mass. While he was preaching, one of the relatives was so upset and overwhelmed, she wept loudly. He stopped what he was doing, went into the congregation and comforted her.”

His simplicity reflects a quiet confidence in being part of the world, not apart from it. He is a leader who knows exactly his place and how to make the most of it. He wanted the top job, and now he has it. He will make allies through humour and warmth, not through intellectual bombardment. Yet his Jesuit training will mean that his reason, as well as his faith, will be fully engaged. These are early days, but if his commitment to social justice indicates where he hopes to find common ground with other leaders, then Pope Francis could be the 21st Century’s Tikkun Olam Pope.

Lucian J Hudson is chairman of Liberal Judaism. He was brought up a Catholic