Peres invites Pope Francis I to Israel

President tells bishops visiting J'lem that Jews, Muslims, Christians of Holy Land will welcome Pope Francis I with love.

Peres and Bishop Gadecki 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Office of the President)
Peres and Bishop Gadecki 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Office of the President)
President Shimon Peres on Thursday invited Pope Francis I to visit Israel, the day after the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected as pontiff by the College of Cardinals.
Speaking to a visiting delegation of Church leaders from Poland, Peres said he wanted to “invite the newly elected pope to pay a visit to the Holy Land at the earliest possibility.”
The new leader of the world’s Catholics would be a “welcome guest,” Peres said, as a “man of inspiration that can add to the attempt to bring peace in a stormy area. All people here, without exception, without difference of religion or nationality, will welcome the newly elected pope.”
The president also said that Vatican-Jewish relations were “now at their best in the last 2,000 years.”
Israeli officials are bullish on the pope, with the Chief Rabbinate expressing confidence that “Pope Francis, whose good relations with the Jewish People are well known, will keep the same spirit, and strengthen and develop the Roman Catholic Church’s connections with the State of Israel and the Jewish People.”
Zion Evrony, ambassador of Israel to the Vatican, told The Jerusalem Post that he believed and hoped that “relations will deepen and expand” under Francis.
“We truly hope that [the pope] will accept [our] invitation and continue the tradition of his two predecessors,” who visited Israel, Evrony said.
Jewish leaders around the world also praised Francis, who is noted for his warm relations with the Argentinean Jewish community.
The pontiff wrote the forward to a book by Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a Buenos Aires legislator, and referred to him as “one of my teachers.”
“The Latin American Jewish Congress has a close relationship with Bishop Jorge Bergoglio dating from several years ago. He was personally very involved in interfaith dialogue, and he co-hosted many of these events in the Cathedral of Buenos Aires,” LAJC director Claudio Epelman said. “We know of his strengths and have no doubt he will do a great job in front of the Church.”
LAJC President Jack Terpins stressed hope that in his papacy, Francis “continues developing the good relationship and understanding between Catholics and Jews, to become an example for humanity.”
Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said the Jewish people “couldn’t have asked for a better choice in terms of Catholic-Jewish relations. No pope has ever been a cardinal who has had such close relations with a living Jewish community.”
The AJC said that “Pope Francis has demonstrated his profound solidarity with the Jewish community in Argentina in both times of sorrow and joy. We look forward to continued close collaboration with the Catholic Church under his leadership as we have been privileged to enjoy with his predecessors.”
Last November, Bergoglio hosted a Kristallnacht memorial event at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral with Rabbi Alejandro Avruj from the city’s NCI-Emanuel World Masorti congregation.
He also has held meetings with Jewish youth who participated in the Latin American Jewish Congress’s New Generations program.
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman called the election of Francis “a significant moment in the history of the Church.” There was “much in his record that reassures us about the future,” he said.
The World Jewish Congress’s President Ronald Lauder said that “in recent years he [Bergoglio] attended many interfaith events co-organized by the WJC and our regional affiliate, the Latin American Jewish Congress. I personally met with him in Buenos Aires in June 2008. He always had an open ear for our concerns. By choosing such an experienced man, someone who is known for his open-mindedness, the cardinals have sent an important signal to the world. I am sure that Pope Francis I will continue to be a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths.”
Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs recalled the pope’s “strong relationship” with the Jews in his see and said that “he was one of the first leaders to call for justice in the AMIA Jewish community center bombing in 1994.”