The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the pope holds great promise for interreligious relations to continue on a path started by Blessed John Paul II, said several U.S. religious leaders.The relationship between Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, and the Jewish community in Argentina was particularly strong, and Jewish leaders look for that to set the tone for Catholic-Jewish relations. Sikh and Muslim participants in interreligious dialogues in the United States also are optimistic about the direction Pope Francis will take with their communities.Satpal Singh, chairperson of the World Sikh Council-America Region, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director of the Islamic Council of Orange County, all told Catholic News Service that new directions in interfaith understanding that started under Blessed John Paul and continued under Pope Benedict XVI have transformed how Catholics and members of their faiths see each other.In phone interviews with CNS, each noted that Blessed John Paul broke barriers and they believe Pope Francis will continue on that path.Previously, while it wasn't necessarily the formal Catholic teaching, Foxman said, the belief and attitude among Catholics "was that Christianity superseded Judaism. What John Paul did, by going to a synagogue, was say there was another path to God."Pope Benedict likewise visited synagogues when he traveled, which served "to reinforce and institutionalize this new approach," said Foxman.Rabbi Alan Brill, who holds the Cooperman/Ross endowed chair of Jewish-Christian studies at Seton Hall University, explained that "Nostra Aetate," the Second Vatican Council document on the relationship of the Catholic Church to non-Christian faiths, started a new approach to Catholic-Jewish relations, but that Blessed John Paul took it further, and Protestant churches followed.In Argentina, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was friends with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Latin American rabbinical seminary in Buenos Aires. They shared a passion for Argentine soccer and Rabbi Skorka wrote the forward to Pope Francis' book on the Jesuits. The pair co-wrote another book, "On Heaven and Earth." The Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, which Pope Francis oversaw, awarded Rabbi Skorka an honorary doctorate in 2012.Foxman noted that the archbishop participated in community events in Buenos Aires marking Jewish observances of Hanukkah and Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass)."From everything I know of him, this will be a continuation" of how his immediate predecessors related to Jews, said Foxman.Siddiqi has held a variety of national and international positions for Islamic organizations and has participated in formal dialogues with the Catholic Church.Pope Francis seems to be a humble man, Siddiqi said, and devoted to caring for the poor. Although Muslims worldwide outnumber Catholics, Islam does not have a central leadership structure, he explained. So, as the representative of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, the pope is in the position of being the only worldwide religious leader on such a scale."As the leader of a billion people, he's in a unique position. No other religion has that situation," Siddiqi said. "He can play a very significant role as a voice for the voiceless, working through the church's network of churches and priests.""We need a very strong moral voice," said Siddiqi, to emphasize the importance of family values, to speak out against violence and in support of the poor and needy.Muslims have been in dialogue with the Catholic Church for a long time, Siddiqi said, "and in general we have a lot of respect for this office."Blessed John Paul "was a man of dialogue" who was loved and appreciated throughout the world, by non-Christians as well as Catholics, he said.He said he met with Pope Benedict in Washington in 2008 and was part of a train ride with Benedict and interreligious leaders in 2011 from Rome to Assisi for a peace pilgrimage. "That was a wonderful day," Siddiqi said.Singh said then-Cardinal Bergoglio also was active in Argentina with his faith, which he believes bodes well for Sikhs and Catholics to continue in productive dialogue."He has shown personal compassion on behalf of the poor and in fighting for equality and justice," said Singh. Such efforts "are the very essence of the Sikh faith. The very essence of our spiritual journey is to share God's blessings with others."Sikhs in the United States have been in a dialogue with Catholics for quite a while, meeting every other year, he said. "We hope to extend that to annual meetings."That, as well as expanding interreligious outreach to the local level, would be the directions Sikhs would like to see the Sikh-Catholic relations go, he said."Leaders of faith can make a big difference in how people live in faith and harmony," he said."Just as Francis said," said Singh, quoting the new pope, "we should move together on the path of love and fraternity."—CNS{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0329/interreligious/{/gallery}