Will the pope’s visit to Israel improve Jewish-Christian relations?

Photo ~ Try not to look up to him

FOR Jerusalem’s Jewish municipality, the photograph of a merry pope in a white skullcap waving at passing crowds from the walls of the Christian Information Centre was a step too far. Officials asked the Franciscan fathers who run the place to take it down. The monks said they could not in good conscience oblige, and invited the police to do it themselves. The police diplomatically stayed away. The municipal authorities did not opine.

Pope Francis’s visit to Israel on May 25th is stirring ambivalence, if not soul-searching, about the Israeli state’s attitude to other religions, particularly Christianity. The education ministry shows scant interest in the teaching of other religions to Jews. But ahead of the pope’s visit it has prepared material for schools highlighting Pope John XXIII’s intervention, as a wartime papal nuncio in Istanbul, to save Jews from the Holocaust by issuing false baptismal certificates. “Normally we learn about Christianity only in the context of the persecution of the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Holocaust,” says an official in the education ministry. “This will be a different approach entirely.”

Jews tend to agree with Judaism’s greatest medieval scholar, Moses Maimonides, that Christianity, but not Islam, is idolatrous. A survey in 2008 found that 37% thought they were forbidden to enter churches. The Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, which promotes interfaith harmony, says it still refrains from taking Jewish children into churches.