A Rabbi & The Pope

0615rabbiandpopeOn his last day in Israel, Pope Francis prayed at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, before an emotional hug with two old friends—a Muslim leader and a rabbi.

The rabbi, Abraham Skorka of the Conservative Congregation Benei Tikvah in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Pope, former Catholic Priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio met over twenty years ago when the rabbi represented the Jewish community at the anniversary of Argentina’s May Revolution. The two became good friends and met every week as Bergoglio rose to be the Archbishop and then Cardinal. They co-authored a book on interfaith dialogue, titled “On Heaven and Earth” published in Spanish in 2010 and in English in 2013, which is based on over 30 TV shows they co-hosted in Argentina. However, on March 13, 2013, Bergoglio called his old friend Skorka and said he would no longer be able to meet every week in Buenos Aires. “They have captured me in Rome” he said. “They won’t let me return to Argentina,” said the now Pope Francis, the leader of 1.2 Billion Catholics. Nevertheless, they have remained close and have met on numerous occasions. One of the most visible was the meeting in front of the Kotel in Jerusalem along with Muslim Imam Omar Abboud.

The interfaith dialogue, promoted by these two leaders, continues and this past January, Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove was host to one these meetings. Prior to a kosher dinner provided by the Diocese, Skorka met privately with a group of rabbis as part of the “Jewish Catholic Dialogue,” an ongoing discussion between religious leaders. Skorka then participated in a public dialogue with Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange County.

During the dialogue Skorka was asked, “How can Jews and Catholics find common ground? He pointed out that both religions share two basic principles: the Sh’ma, that there is one G-d, and the obligation to care for our fellow human beings. “Where Jews and Catholics differ is not in their principles but in their mysticism, said Skorka. “This must not prevent us from working in the world together.

Asked about the appropriate response to Islamic terrorism, Skorka remarked, “The best response is Jews, Christians, and responsible Muslims, working for peace.” He added that “peace is the only way to worship G-d. And, the first responsibility of all religions is to care for your fellow man.” We all parted wishing each other Shalom.

Rabbi Larry Seidman is a trans-denominational community rabbi in Orange County. He serves the Jewish and Interfaith Community in a variety of ways. He is a member of the Jewish-Catholic Dialogue, and has twice visited Turkey with the Hizmet (Moderate Islam) Movement. 

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