(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ “deep relationship with Jews in Buenos Aires” and his close contact with communities of Middle Eastern immigrants to Argentina have given the new pontiff a clear understanding of the urgent issues facing the Holy Land today. That’s the view of Jesuit Fr David Neuhaus, patriarchal vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities in Israel, who hopes the Holy Father will be able to build bridges of mutual respect between all the different faith communities in the region.
Fr David was part of a delegation from the Jerusalem Patriarchate which met in audience with Pope Francis on Monday. Philippa Hitchen spoke with him about the meeting and about his hopes for the future of the Church in the Holy Land under this new pontificate.
“We were presented one by one to the Pope and when I came to him I underlined the fact that I’m a Jesuit by saying, “here I am, representing the Hebrew-speaking communities, I’m a Jesuit among diocesans and a Jew among Arabs”….and he smiled and turned to the Patriarch and said, ‘Oh, another one who has the virus!’ And there was a clear sign of joy in the eyes of the Pope to see there is another Jesuit, out there somewhere on the margins, trying to serve the universal Church…The Pope coming from Latin America would have been very much exposed to very large communities of Middle Easterners who live in Latin America. In fact, for a time he was even charged as Ordinary for Eastern rite Catholics in Buenos Aires….he has already on various occasions manifested a very strong solidarity with the Church in the Middle East…..this is a Pope who also had a deep, deep relationship with Jews in Buenos Aires, so also from that point of view of interreligious dialogue he seems to be very much understanding what’s going on and what the issues are…The Hebrew speaking community has an enormous mission, we are few in numbers as Israeli citizens because the vast majority are really the most marginalized, the foreign workers, the asylum seekers.
We are working to establish a presence in South Tel Aviv which is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Israel, populated by those very people whom Pope Francis has made the centre…the poor, the marginalized, those with no rights…Relations between the Holy See and Israel are complex, the negotiations have been dragging on for a very long time….here again I think Pope Francis’ directness, his honesty, his clear elaboration of what is going on in any particular situation might indeed help untie some of the knots in these negotiations….Of course relations with the State of Israel are intimately connected with relations with the rest of the Middle East and we really hope that Pope Francis will be able to be a bridge to bring the parties closer together, so that they will adopt a discourse of respect and understanding of each other, so that Christians in the Middle East can live in an atmosphere where peace and justice are part of their daily lives….”