Never before in the history of Christian-Jewish relations have a Pope and a Rabbi celebrated their friendship by living in the Vatican together for several days, sharing all meals, including on two Jewish festivals and the Sabbath at which the Rabbi said prayers in Hebrew, and discussing what more they can do together to promote dialogue and peace in the world.
That is what actually happened over the past four
days at the Vatican guesthouse (Santa Marta) where Pope Francis lives
and where his friend from Buenos Aires, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, has been
his guest from September 25 to this day.
“I eat with him at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. He
cares for me, and controls everything regarding my food to makes sure
it is all kosher, and according to my religious tradition. These are
festive days, and I have to say certain prayers at meals and, I expand
the last prayer and translate it. He accompanies me together with the
others at table -his secretaries and a bishop, and they all say ‘Amen’
at the end”, the Rabbi said.
By acting in this way, the Pope and Rabbi are
sending an extraordinary message of friendship, dialogue and peace not
only to their respective religious communities but also to the whole
world. And they plan to do even more together, Rabbi Skorka revealed when we talked together at Santa Marta, on September 27.
He and the Pope are planning to travel together to
the Holy Land next year. The Israeli and Palestinian authorities have
invited Pope Francis, and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople,
Bartholomew1, wants him to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of his predecessor, Athenagoras, with Paul VI in the Holy City.
“We are dreaming of traveling together to Israel
soon, and the Pope is working on this subject”, the Rabbi said. “I dream
of embracing him at the Kotel, or Wailing Wall, and I will accompany
him to Bethlehem, in the Palestinian territories. His presence can help a lot at this moment when the peace talks are starting again”, he added.
Skorka sees a deep spiritual significance for both
of them in being together at the sites that are sacred to their
respective religions. “I do not cease to be a Jew for him, and he goes
on keeping his own faith. But the two spiritualities have to have a
point of encounter. We cannot live in a world where we reject each other, we must build bridges.”
He believes his friend “has become a spiritual
reference point for the whole world, not just for the Catholic Church”
as was evidenced recently when he called for a day of prayer and fast
for peace in Syria
“Ours is a spiritual journey”, he said of their
friendship which dates back to 1997 when Bergoglio became coadjutor
bishop of Buenos Aires archdiocese. “Like him I don’t much like the
protocol, and like him I too go for the essentials”, he added. Since
then, they have done many things together, including producing an
interview book – Sobre el cielo y la tierra (‘On heaven and earth’) that has been translated into several languages and will soon be in Hebrew too.
“We hold to different traditions, but we are
creating a dialogue that has not existed for centuries. Both of us
believe that God has something to do with our friendship and with what
we are doing. There are too many coincidences for it all to be
mere chance”, said Skorka, 63, who is Rector of the Latin American
“We come together without burying our identities. I spoke to him about evangelization, and he stated emphatically that the Catholic Church cannot engage in proselytism”, he said.
“We are not looking for a photo opportunity, but
we want what we are doing to trigger a re-thinking about things. Ours is
not a relation of ‘tea and sympathy’; that is not my way, and it is not
Bergoglio’s way. We want to move ahead by actions, we must advance by
building bridges, through a living dialogue; not a dialogue of words,
but a dialogue of actions that reflect our commitment”, he stated.
Rabbi Skorka believes that “many Christians and
Jews in Europe and the United States do not understand our friendship,
for them it comes as a shock,”, but he is convinced that “history is
made more by action than by political reasoning”.
Last June the Rabbi met his friend, Jorge Mario
Bergoglio, in the Vatican for the first time after his election, when
Skorka came at the invitation of the Focolare movement. He returned this
time at the invitation of the Sant Egidio community which is holding
its annual international inter-religious meeting in Rome in these days.
It was his second meeting with Pope Francis, and he
found him “full of energy and very much focused on his work” He believes
the honeymoon period is over and the Pope is now “in the phase of hard
work”. He was particularly struck by the fact that his relation with the
Pope “is the same as before, and even deeper”, and he concluded that
even though his friend has moved to a higher status in the world’s
scale, “his humility has increased even more!”