During his first-ever trip to the United States, Pope Francis will be arriving at the beginning of Yom Kippur and will not visit any synagogues.
Despite this, many American Jews will be welcoming the pope’s arrival, especially since Pope Francis has made it clear that he is a friend of the Jews.
“Christians, all Christians, have Jewish roots,” he said in an address in June. “We are strangers no more, but friends, and brothers and sisters.”
The pope also has a history of Jewish connections to back up his claim.
In addition, Pope Francis’s progressive views on issues like climate change, immigration, criminal justice reform, and same-sex marriage have helped him win over liberals, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
The pope’s visit comes during the 50th anniversary of the “Nostra Aetate,” a historic document that the Catholic Church issued in 1965 that condemned anti-Semitism and announced that Jews were not responsible for Jesus’s death.
While there is no indication that the pope will discuss Nostra Aetate or the state of Catholic-Jewish relations during any of his visits to churches, government institutions, and other organizations, the Anti-Defamation League has noted that the pope will “symbolically advance strides he has made in strengthening relations between the Vatican and the Jewish people.”
The best chance for Jews to meet the pope will be during a multi-faith service on September 25 at the September 11 memorial at ground zero in downtown Manhattan in New York City. Here is an overview of the pope’s first visit to the United States from September 22 to September 27.
On September 23, after the pope’s arrival in Washington, D.C. on September 22, and before he leads a papal parade along the National Mall that day, in the morning he will meet with President Barack Obama.
The meeting underscores the close connection between the two leaders that has evolved due to agreement on a variety of political issues. For example, Pope Francis has supported Obama’s efforts to fight climate change, given moral weight to Obama’s attempts at immigration reform, and has personally helped Obama rekindle diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
Pope Francis has also called for a two-state solution in the Middle East and a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Obama also supports. In June, the Vatican signed an official treaty with the “State of Palestine,” which implicitly recognizes Palestine as an autonomous state. This move was not well received with Jews in Israel and all over the world.
“This hasty step damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement,” Israel’s foreign ministry said at the time.
On September 24, Pope Francis will become the first pope to address a joint session of Congress.
The New York Times pointed out that Pope Francis’s address will come at a high-water mark for Catholics in American politics, as six of the nine Supreme Court justices and 31 percent of Congress members are Catholic, and Joe Biden is the first Catholic vice president.
During the night of September 24, Reform Jewish leaders will join an interfaith rally and prayer service in midtown Manhattan that will be calling for action on climate change. Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, will be addressing the crowd at the event, which is planned as a forerunner to Pope Francis’s address during the morning of September 25 at the nearby U.N. General Assembly.
On September 25, after Pope Francis’s U.N. General Assembly speech, during which he is expected to discuss climate change, the pope will lead an interfaith service at the September 11 Memorial and Museum. The pope will offer inclusive prayers and meet with the families of the victims of September 11. Pope Francis invited Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of the Park Avenue Synagogue to attend. Jews are welcome at this event, which starts at 11:30 a.m. on September 25.
Pope Francis will be traveling to Philadelphia during the weekend of September 26 and 27, and on September 27, he will visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet with prisoners from all over Philadelphia’s prison system. Pope Francis has been very vocal about the United States’s high incarceration rates in the past.