“Whether I am present or not, I am convinced that this trip will usher in a new era in Jewish-Christian dialogue: the era of empathy.”
These were the sentiments of Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of the Rabbinical Seminary of Buenos Aires, on Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the Holy Land.
Rabbi Skorka, a personal friend of the Holy Father, was interviewed by the Italian bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire, on his friendship with the Pope and the impact of the Holy Father’s first visit to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jordan on May 24-26.
When he served as Archbishop of Buenos, the then Cardinal Bergoglio and Rabbi Skorka worked together in fostering relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community in Argentina.
“A few days after his election, [the Pope] wrote to tell me that he would like to continue our journey. And that is what we try to do,” he said. “Even if we don’t hear from each other often, for him friendship is a fundamental value. He has not internalized that throwaway culture in which people are used and then thrown away.”
The Argentinian rabbi, who last met with the Pope on January 17th, said the Holy Father’s relationship with the Jewish people continue along the line of his predecessors, including popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis, he said, has a specific peculiarity: “He is a man of simple words and profound gestures.” Those gestures, he went on to say, “strike at the heart, revealing the true meaning of those discourses that seem easy. Actions breaks down walls.”
When asked if he believed that the Holy Father’s visit would contribute to peace in the Holy Land, Rabbi Skorka agreed that the Pope would leave an indelible mark on the people.
“I don’t expect [Pope] Francis to wave a magic wand and bring together Jews and Palestinians. But, his charisma and his great humility can give a powerful message of peace for the whole Middle East,” he said. “It is a strategic region for world harmony, as taught to us by the prophets of the Bible, from Isaiah to Micah.”
Reflecting on his friendship with Pope Francis, Rabbi Skorka said what distinguishes the Holy Father the most is his capacity to give of himself to others, no matter what religion, nationality or political ideal.
When asked if he had seen any change in his friend in the last year, Rabbi Skorka responded: “He has honed his skills as a leader. But the man is the same. The friend is the same. Only dressed in white…” (J.A.E.)