(JTA) — Turkish Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva met with Pope Francis on the Catholic spiritual leader’s first official visit to Turkey.
Francis, who was born in Argentina, and Haleva met privately for about 15 minutes on Sunday, Vatican Radio reported. The two conversed in Spanish, which is Haleva’s maternal language as a Sephardic Jew of Spanish descent.
The pope met Haleva in the final hours of his two-day trip to Turkey. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, told reporters that the two men would have met Saturday if not for the Jewish Sabbath. He added that the conversation was “very friendly and cordial.”
“Pope Francis came here on a bridge-building mission within the Christian world,” said Cefi Kamhi, a prominent member of Turkey’s Jewish community of 25,000, a member of the European Jewish Parliament and a former lawmaker. “It’s natural that he should also reach out to strengthen ties to other faith groups, and I think he succeeded in doing this.”
Haleva met the previous pope, Benedict XVI, on his visit to Turkey in 2006.
One of the key elements of the Pope’s visit was his meeting with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. The two met Sunday and demanded an end to the persecution of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq and called for a “constructive dialogue” with Muslims.
Francis’ visit was also seen as outreach to Muslims in the Muslim nation. He visited Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet mosque, where he paused for a moment of reflection. The grand mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, who received Francis at the mosque, said he hoped that Francis’ visit would “contribute to the world getting along well and living in peace.”