Many would say that relations between Judaism and Christianity in Canada have never been better, and with good reason. Canada, a majority Christian nation, scored well on the Anti-Defamation League’s recent worldwide index of anti-Semitism. There is robust interfaith dialogue. And, of course, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an evangelical Christian, stands as one of the Israeli government’s strongest allies.
Canadian Christians have also no doubt been influenced in their approach to Jews by Pope Francis, who just under a year ago stated Christians “cannot be anti-Semitic.” If that were literally true, Canada would have garnered a better score from the ADL, but the sentiment is still powerful. What else would you expect from a pope who co-wrote a book, titled On Heaven and Earth with his Jewish best friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka?
Pope Francis, who was accompanied by Rabbi Skorka when he made his first trip to Israel earlier this week, has emerged as something of a folk hero/pop star during his short time as Pope. The simplicity of his message has been refreshing, and he has focused on the importance of humility and generosity, two themes that are also central to Judaism. His “who am I to judge?” proclamation about gay people was so profound that it transcended all religious boundaries.
“Who am I too judge” followed from 2010’s On Heaven And Earth, where the then-Cardinal Bergoglio wrote: “when one reads Maimonides… and Saint Thomas of Aquinas, two nearly contemporary philosophers, we see that they always start by putting themselves in the position of their adversary in order to understand them; they dialogue from the standpoint of the other.” The search for understanding requires that we see beyond ourselves. Therein, the pope is saying, lies the genesis of religious co-existence.
But it’s not always so easy to be understanding. Sometimes, try as we might to see things from another perspective, we fail to find positive insight. That is certainly the case in the aftermath of the shooting at Brussels’ Jewish Museum on Saturday that left four people dead. This shocking, tragic act will force some Jews – in Europe especially, but also everywhere else they live, Canada included – to retreat inward, to lose trust.
The Brussels disaster, on the heels of the Toulouse shooting, raises a fundamental question: how safe is Europe for Jews? As Paul Michaels described in last week’s CJN, parts of Europe are experiencing a neo-Nazi resurgence. Political parties that either advocate or tolerate anti-Semitism are gaining followers in Hungary, Greece and France, a trend borne out by Sunday’s European Parliament elections. According to the ADL’s survey, western Europe is 24 per cent anti-Semitic, a full 10 points higher than Canada. In eastern Europe, the number is 34 per cent.
Canadian Jews are fortunate to live in such a tolerant country. European Jews aren’t so lucky, and in the aftermath of Brussels, we are reminded of the reasons that many fear for the future of European Jewry. The threat is real and growing. That’s why Pope Francis’ powerful message that Jews are not the enemy – that, in fact, Christians and Jews have much in common, and plenty to learn from each other – is of such crucial importance.