Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was selected Wednesday as the new pope, Francis I, by the College of Cardinals.
Bergoglio, 76, is the first pope elected from South America, home to the world’s largest Catholic population, and the first born outside of Europe in more than 1,000 years.
Bergoglio also becomes first member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit) religious order to be elected pope.
“Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly,” says his official biographer, Sergio Rubin, according to the Associated Press.
Bergoglio is also well respected by local Argentinian and international Jewish leaders.
He won praise for his compassionate response to the 1994 terror attack on a Jewish center that killed 85 people in his native Buenos Aires.
“He was very concerned with what happened,” Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz co-founder of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University said in 2005, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “He’s got experience.”
In 2005, Bergoglio signed a joint statement against terrorism together with Jose Adaszko of the Israel Mutual Association of Argentina, and Omar Helal Massud of the Islamic Center, with an emphasis on preventing such attacks sas the 1994 bombing, according to Israel National News.
American Jewish leaders were quick to praise the selection of Bergoglio.
“Pope Francis has demonstrated his profound solidarity with the Jewish community in Argentina in both times of sorrow and joy,” Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs, said in a statement. “We look forward to continued close collaboration with the Catholic Church under his leadership, as we have been privileged to enjoy with his predecessors.”
Pope Francis’s predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, took significant steps to improve Jewish-Christian relations, as well as to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. The Jewish state and the Vatican, however, have not agreed of late on the Palestinian issue. Last year, the Vatican supported the Palestinians’ status upgrade bid at the United Nations.
“We have been encouraged by the historic progress in Catholic-Jewish relations,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said in a statement. “Interfaith dialogue, stressing tolerance and mutual respect, is increasingly important in today’s world.”