I found this anecdote from Crux’s John Allen amusing. Pope Francis went to visit the Roman Synagogue. A Catholic who converted to Judaism and is active in their community in Rome asked the Pope to reinstate the Feast of the Circumcision on 1 January.
Those episodes are no laughing matter, and Francis appeared somber and restrained as he began shaking hands. That lasted until he saw an elderly man named Nereo Musante, wearing a fedora and sporting a long beard, who was gazing at the pontiff with an infectious smile.
Francis lit up and made a beeline for Musante, wrapping his outstretched hand in both of his own and engaging in a brief chat. Nearby microphones picked up most of the exchange. [I hope there is a video.]
“Listen, Holy Father, how about putting the [feast of] the circumcision back on the calendar?” Musante said, causing others standing nearby to laugh that he would use the occasion to give the pope unsolicited advice.
“It would be a beautiful thing to do, wouldn’t it?” he persisted.
Francis didn’t directly respond to the suggestion, but his body language indicated he certainly didn’t take any offense.
As Francis was about to pull away to greet someone else, the still-beaming Musante then said: “Anyway, you’re a very nice person … we love you a lot!”
What Musante was referring to is an old Catholic feast based on the Biblical story that on the eighth day after his birth, in keeping with Jewish law, the newborn Christ child was circumcised and presented with his name, “Jesus.”
Undoubtedly, Musante sees the account from the Gospel of Luke as a clear confirmation of the Jewish roots of Jesus, and thus of Christianity itself.
From the 13th and 14th centuries, the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord was celebrated on Jan. 1 and was considered a holy day of obligation, when Catholics are required to attend Mass. After the Second Vatican Council, however, Jan. 1 was designated as a feast of Mary, Mother of God, returning to an ancient practice, and the Feast of the Circumcision was more or less forgotten. [Not by everyone.]
Musante, now 95, would know all that because he was born Catholic in the Italian city of Livorno, and came of age in the Catholic Church before Vatican II in the mid-1960s, when the Feast of the Circumcision was a major annual event.
Somewhere along the line, Musante developed an attraction to Judaism and wanted to embrace the faith. During the 1970s and early 80s, after he moved to Rome, he presented himself at the Great Synagogue several times hoping to convert, but was sent away.
Musante wouldn’t give up, which is how he came to be at the synagogue on the day when the 1982 attack occurred, and he was injured himself. Afterwards, then-Chief Rabbi Elio Toaf agreed to accept him into Judaism, and he’s gone on to become a pillar of Rome’s Jewish community, which is why he was on hand to greet Francis on Sunday.
In many ways, Musante exudes the typical zeal of the convert, feeling more protective of Judaism, and the Roman Jewish community, than even some of those born into it. As a result, he just couldn’t resist using the pope’s visit to prod Francis to take one more step down the path of acknowledging the Jewish origins of the Church.
Yet at the same time, Musante also couldn’t help telling Francis what a great guy he is and how much local Jews love him.