Pope Francis has demanded justice for the victims of Argentina’s worst terrorist attack on an amateur smartphone video message, recorded by a visiting friend.
His call was aired yesterday during the official commemoration of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
The video is the latest evidence that Pope Francis has no qualms about circumventing the Vatican’s well-oiled media machine.
Close friend Claudio Epelman, executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, shot the video last month on his phone when he visited the Vatican.
Mr Epelman said he asked Pope Francis, who was an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires at the time of the attack, if he would like to send a message to Argentina’s Jewish community to mark the anniversary.
Mr Epelman said: “He thought about it for half a second and said, ‘Do you have your cellphone with you? I said ‘Yes’ and then he said, ‘Good, let’s record it now!”’
In the message, the Pope speaks off-the-cuff, condemning terrorism as “lunacy” and says Argentina must come to terms with the damage and pain the unsolved crime still causes.
He said: “Today, together with my solidarity and my prayers for all the victims, comes my desire for justice. May justice be done.”
Last year, Argentina and Iran approved a “truth commission” aimed at moving the investigation forward by enabling Argentine prosecutors to travel to Tehran to question former Iranian officials suspected of organising the attack.
But little progress has been made and Jewish groups say Argentina’s failure to press Iran guarantees impunity. Tehran denies any involvement.
It’s the second time Francis has issued a direct message on a smartphone and confirms that the 77-year-old is comfortable using new media and technology to communicate, even though he keeps a hand-written agenda and has never owned a mobile phone.
Earlier this year, he recorded an iPhone video message of brotherly friendship to a gathering of Pentecostals, one of the Catholic Church’s fiercest competitors.
While Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI sent the first papal tweet from the Vatican’s @Pontrifex account in 2012, it was a carefully orchestrated affair arranged by his Vatican communications team.
Pope Francis is breaking new ground by going it alone, granting audiences and interviews he arranges himself and allowing trusted friends to deliver messages to groups he might otherwise have a hard time reaching through Vatican channels.
“Pope Francis is clearly very comfortable communicating in new ways, and seems unconstrained by the ‘old ways’ of doing things,” said the Rev James Martin, a Jesuit author.
“Like Jesus, he grasps that the best way to communicate is by speaking to people plainly, and by using accessible media. For Jesus, that medium was often the parable; for Francis it might be an encyclical, but it also might be YouTube or a smartphone.”
However, the move has come at a cost. Just last week, the Vatican was forced to issue a lengthy clarification after Francis chatted with an Italian atheist and journalist, Eugenio Scalfari.
In the interview, published in the left-leaning newspaper La Repubblica, the Pope was quoted as saying that there were cardinals among paedophile clergymen and that he would find a solution to the problem surrounding the celibate priesthood.