As he prepares for the upcoming Jewish holiday Passover, a local rabbi admits to observing Catholic rituals unfolding in Rome.
"It's always a turning point," explains Rabbi Alan Green of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue of the recent election of Pope Francis I.
"The Catholic Church is a major institution. If one is interested in religious trends, one watches the Catholic Church."
Earlier this month, former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, was elected to the Catholic Church's highest office and became the first Pope from Latin America. The name Francis honours St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the medieval friar who devoted his life to helping the poor.
Part of the reason religious people of all persuasions were mesmerized by the news from Rome was the contrast between 2000-year-old traditions and our post-modern world, explains another Winnipeg rabbi and former university religion professor.
"This is ancient and it's almost like we're going back in time with the white smoke and the black smoke," says Rabbi Neal Rose from his son's home in St. Louis, Mo.
"It's totally irrelevant to modern life and it's fascinating."
Add that antiquity to the sheer size of the Catholic flock, numbering 1.2 billion people worldwide, and you've got a story that continues to intrigue those inside the church and outside, says a spokeswoman for the Canadian Council of Churches.
"Part of that is that there are very few other figures, if any, that can be said to represent that many people," says Rev. Karen Hamilton, a United Church of Canada minister.
"Somehow, the world is gripped by an institution, whatever its strength and weakness, that regards faith as central to life."
But if you're not one of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, why do you care about the new Pope?
One reason is what happens in Rome doesn't stay in Rome, but affects relationships between faith groups right here in Winnipeg, says a theology professor with decades of experience in interfaith dialogue.
"What makes a difference is if this new pontiff would not be willing to enter relationships with interfaith groups. That would cast a shadow over here," explains Rev. James Christie of the University of Winnipeg.
Currently, local Roman Catholics engage in formal dialogue with other faith groups, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Mennonites and Jews, says Julien Fradette of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface.
How Catholics view women in leadership also affects other Christian churches and faith groups, suggests a Dauphin lawyer who flew to Rome to lobby for increased participation of women during the papal conclave.
"The Catholic Church is one of the few institutions that is truly global and it is increasing in prominence in the developing world," says Therese Koturbash, the only Canadian in a seven-woman delegation representing Women's Ordination Worldwide (http://womensordinationworldwide.org/).
"The stance it takes on women affects all women, whether they're Catholic or not."
During the papal conclave, Koturbash held up a canister blowing pink smoke to symbolize the exclusion of women from the process of choosing the next leader. In the Roman Catholic tradition, only celibate men are ordained as priests. In the Eastern Rite of the church, including the Ukrainian Catholic Church, married men can be ordained.
"The fact that women are banned from leadership in the (Roman Catholic) church enforces their second-class status," says Koturbash, who is completing a master's degree in canon law.
While some watch what Pope Francis says about the role of women in the church, others are looking for an indication of openness to other faith traditions.
"The question is what will be the relationship between the papacy and Jews (when it comes to) Israel?" says Rose, speaking of what the Jewish community is looking for.
"We'd have to hear His Holiness is going to go to Israel and go to the Western Wall, meet the rabbis, meet the prime minister."
Winnipeg's Muslim community, which includes people from dozens of nations, will also watch for signs of openness and friendship from Rome, says the chairwoman of the Winnipeg Central Mosque council.
"If the global leader (at the Vatican) sends a message -- let's be allies and friends, keep the doors of communication open, be positive -- I think that's going to be beneficial for everyone," says Jennifer Rahman, who met Pope John II during his 1984 Winnipeg visit.
Jews prepare for Passover
Jews around the world are preparing for Passover, or Pesach, the days marking the deliverance of Jews from slavery in Egypt during the time of Moses.
Passover begins on the evening of Monday, March 25, and ends the evening of Tuesday, April 2.
During this time, Jews do not eat or touch leavened bread, but lock it up or remove it from their houses.
The first day of Passover is marked with a special dinner called a Seder.
No work is allowed on the first and last days of the holiday.
-- source: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/