Within hours of the selection of Pope Francis I as the new pontiff, newspapers quoted the heads of the major Jewish agencies saying that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was committed to building bridges to the Jewish community. Jewish leaders said they expected to have a fruitful relationship with him.
As a bishop and then cardinal, the pope participated in many interfaith meetings. He was praised by the Jewish community for his compassionate response to the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a seven-story building housing the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the Delegation of the Argentine Jewish Association. As a cardinal, he has preached in a synagogue twice, spoken at holocaust commemorations and has visited Israel.
Remarkably, almost no attention has been paid to the fact that the only book written by the Pope currently in print is a dialogue in Spanish between the then-cardinal Bergoglio and a rabbi.
“Sobre El Cielo Y La Tierra (Regarding Heaven and Earth)” is structured as a transcript of a conversation between then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano.
The sweeping book skips quickly from discussions of God, fundamentalism, sin, homosexuality, capitalism, money, the poor and many other topics. The future pontiff addresses the role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust, Argentina’s so-called dirty war and the Mideast conflict in an unscripted, eye-opening way that couldn’t be further from the carefully crafted messages that usually emerge from the Vatican
Because of its important insights into the new pope, ‘Sobre El Cielo Y La Tierra’ has shot to the No. 1 slot for books on religion on Amazon.com.
The most intriguing aspect for Jews may be that the first words the world may read by the new leader of the 1.2-billion member church is a constructive conversation with a rabbi, in which both men encourages interfaith amity. The Pope also shows his familiarity with Judaism and Jewish authors, especially the works of Abraham Joshua Heschel.