NEW YORK – Pope Francis' first trip to the U.S. coincides with one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
The holiday begins at sundown Tuesday, just hours after Francis' arrival in Washington.
Jewish leaders were among the thousands of Americans invited to the White House reception for the pope on the South Lawn on Wednesday morning, but they will not attend, as they spend the day fasting and praying. Many instead will attend an interreligious event Friday morning with the pontiff in New York at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Jewish leaders are accustomed to such scheduling issues as a minority religious faith in the U.S., and the holiday conflict is not the first for a papal trip. In 1995, Pope John Paul II arrived in the U.S. on Yom Kippur for a trip that included an address to the United Nations, which is also on Francis' agenda.
Although the Vatican and American Jews had their differences under John Paul, U.S. Jewish leaders were deeply grateful to him for his efforts to end anti-Jewish prejudice within the church.
Francis also has thrilled Jewish leaders even as some disagreements with him emerge over the Palestinians and other issues. The pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, befriended the large Jewish community in his native Argentina, co-authored a book with an Argentine rabbi and frequently denounced anti-Semitism from the pulpit. He has met several times with Jewish leaders at the Vatican.