Faith Matters: Rabbi Harold Caminker

March 8, 2014 

On most Wednesday mornings, the Pope gives a general audience.

Since the election of Pope Francis, St. Peter's Square has been packed.

Two weeks ago, my daughters, Rachel and Leah, joined me on a trip to Italy.

This was our much anticipated rendezvous with Leah, who is teaching English this year to adorable young schoolchildren in the Bordeaux Academy of southern France.

Our morning began with an early appointment in the office of Father Norbert Hoffman, the Vatican's director of Catholic-Jewish relations. Father Hoffman personally escorted us past thousands of faithful pilgrims from every continent to VIP seats roughly 50 feet away from the Pope.

His charisma is contagious.

Pope Francis, in his stark white cassock and skullcap, seemed energized by the emotional crowd. After his speech, the remarks were translated into various languages. Then a long line of bishops and archbishops approached his chair. There were heartfelt hugs all around.

Thousands upon thousands of pilgrims were eagerly waving their white and yellow flags and calling out: "Papa Francesco! Papa Francesco!"

The Pope moved among the massive crowd, first greeting those who were physically and/or emotionally disabled. There were hundreds of wheelchairs. Many were openly weeping.

At that moment, I recalled my many visits to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, our holiest site.

And now, here I was with two of my beautiful daughters in Rome, another "Eternal City."

The last time I felt this way about a Pope was in the early 1960s, when I was a Bar Mitzvah boy growing up in Detroit.

Pope John XXIII had convened the gathering of bishops known as Vatican II, which reformed the Church. The council repudiated the millennium-long tradition of "No Salvation Outside the Church."

Even more revolutionary was the council's rejection of the "Christ-killer" slander against my people, which has its roots in the Gospels. The council even affirmed that the covenant God made with Israel is full and permanent.

"Who am I to judge?"

With those five words spoken last July about the status of gay priests, Pope Francis distanced himself from the disapproving tone, the judgmental moralizing typical of popes and bishops. His remarkable gesture of openness has likewise been extended to women, people of color, Muslims, the poor, ill, and homeless and the list goes on.

My daughters and I have been privileged to witness close up a new kind of Pope ushering in a much-needed new spirit in the Vatican. The next evening, we offered personal prayers of gratitude to God in the sanctuary of Rome's magnificent Great Synagogue.

A few days later we were in Florence, falling in love with Michelangelo's perfect David.

In May, Pope Francis will visit Israel and Palestine. May he help to bring about a spirit of true reconciliation and peace in my Holy Land.


Rabbi Harold Caminker can be reached at 941-755-4900 (Temple), 941-806-9925 (cell), (email). Faith Matters. a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, is written by local clergy members.

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