Without a doubt the greatest contribution of Jewish civilization has been ethical monotheism, where we plant the idea that the God of Israel is the God of all humanity. But at the same time, we also always stress that the religion of the Jewish people is not the religion for all humanity. There are various ways that other people have of approaching the one God, and they are legitimate.
With this principle in mind and with the value of diversity at the core of my soul, my wife and I set out on a pilgrimage to Rome to see the Supreme Pontiff, to say to him that the Jewish people could not have a better friend sitting on the throne of Peter.
I remember just as he assumed his office, commentators speculated that the new pope, not being of European origin and not having been marked by the tragic results of the Shoah (Holocaust), would not be able to give a predominant place to Catholic-Jewish relations. But, they did not know Francis. As a compatriot of the Holy Father, I can say that the pope is “one of us!”
He has prayed in our synagogues, cried over the attacks perpetrated against the embassy of Israel and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. He has never left us alone in our cries for justice. To clear up any doubts, among his first words were: “What I can say, with the Apostle Paul, is that God has never stopped believing in the alliance made with Israel and that, through the terrible trials of these past centuries, the Jews have kept their faith in God. And for this, we will never be grateful enough to them, as the Church, but also as humanity at large.”
En route to last month’s audience, I found it extraordinary to consider the fact that who Pope Francis is, is of interest not only to Catholics but to Jews and people who follow other religions. You may ask, Why?
Francis is a leader who not only will produce changes in the Catholic Church, but his leadership style will challenge the religious leaders of other denominations to not wait for their parishioners in the comfort of their synagogues or mosques but to go to them where they are. Pope Francis’ belief that the role of religion is to accommodate the uncomfortable and make the comfortable a bit uncomfortable, embodies the principles of the prophets of Israel.
He also believes that religious leaders who do not do this will miss the train of history. As a religious soul he knows that every human being needs to know that their lives matter and need to be integrated in the community.
While thousands of religious centers are still pressed about their positions on the gay and lesbian community, the new pope responded when asked about this issue on his trip to Brazil: “Who am I to judge?” He made clear that the divine image is in all of us, including atheists.
I did not know how much to expect from my encounter with the head of the Catholic Church, apart from the immense honor it would be to greet him. I brought him a Kippah, a skullcap with his name, Francisco, woven in Hebrew and the logo of Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus, my synagogue. That logo includes the Ten Commandments that unite our two religions and the two lions of Judah, symbols of strength, which no doubt he will need to carry out this spiritual revolution.
But the magic occurred. We prayed together, a Jewish prayer for a mutual friend, Monsignor Laguna, a bishop who passed away two years ago. The monsignor taught me that God’s love for me, a Jew, does not exhaust God’s infinite love. God can love Christians as Christians. At the same time, God can also love and speak to Muslims in the Muslim language.
And, with the best saved for last, we parted with a hug. While we were embracing, I saw the face of my grandmother, one of the 6 million Jews murdered because of intolerance, speaking to me: Good for you, I am so glad this is a better world.
Rabbi Mario Rojzman, a bilingual Torah scholar who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, heads Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus, North Miami Beach.