VATICAN CITY- After the surprise resignation of Benedict XVI, the calls to find a strong administrator to reform the governance of the Church, days of speculation and two rounds of black smoke...the white smoke came after the cardinals chose a new leader for the Catholic Church known for his humility, and notably the first pontiff from the "New World," the Argentine-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now seared into history as Pope Francis.
The Archbishop of Buenos Aires was elected Wednesday evening with the white smoke appearing from the papal chimney just after 7pm local time. An hour later, French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran announced “Habemus Papam”, introducing the first ever Latin-American pope (Video below).
Bergoglio brings many firsts to this papacy: the first Jesuit priest elected pope, the first in a millenium from outside of Europe, and the first to take the name Francis. The Pope, 76, is the 266th to take the throne of St. Peter. Observers say even just the choice of his name signals the beginning of a new era within the Church. The name Francis is most certainly for St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th-13th-century founder of the Franciscan order, whose plan to rebuild the Church consisted of giving away all worldly possessions.
Addressing the crowd for the first time, Pope Francis seemed to speak from the heart with a hint of a smile when he said “buona sera” (Video at bottom). Before he blessed the crowd, he asked the faithful to pray for him -- a never-before-seen sign of humility. He called himself the Bishop of Rome, not just the Pope, saying that his brother cardinals went to fetch him “at the edge of the world.”
This momentous day has drawn reactions from all over the world, especially from Argentina and the rest of Latin America.
HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM
— Pontifex (@Pontifex) March 13, 2013
— Angélica (@Maryhangelik) March 13, 2013
— Bracesco (@Bracesco) March 13, 2013
— María José Barraza (@MJoseBarraza) March 13, 2013
— Twitter Religion (@twitterreligion) March 13, 2013
Praying for the new Pope Francis. May he be a grace-filled shepherd, a wise leader, & a tangible expression of Christ's love. #HabemusPapam
— Kyle Horner (@KyleJHorner) March 13, 2013
Francis I was the only one in the balcony not wearing a GOLDEN crucifix.A good sign. I never understood ostentation in a Pope. #HabemusPapam
— Bricio Segovia (@briciosegovia) March 13, 2013
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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