A rabbi and an Islamic dignitary are to officially form part of the Pope’s entourage on an international visit for the first time. Both of them are old friends of Pope Francis and both spent a great many years helping him to create room for dialogue in Buenos Aires.
They will be accompanying him as full members of the Vatican delegation that will be travelling to the Holy Land for a brief but intense three-day pilgrimage, which will start in Jordan’s capital, Amman, on Saturday 24 May and continue the next morning with visits to Bethlehem, the Palestinian Territories and finally Jerusalem, in Israel.
Abraham Skorka, rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary of Buenos Aires and Omar Abboud, former secretary general of the Islamic Centre of Argentina, will officially be accompanying Pope Francis on his Holy Land visit. Vatican correspondent, Alver Metalli, revealed the news to Vatican Insider yesterday and today it was confirmed by Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi.
Francis is visiting the Holy Land at the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew. The main point of the visit is to meet all Christian denominations present in the Holy Land, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to commemorate the historic embrace between Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras 50 years ago. The issue of dialogue among religions and relations between the three faiths who share every square inch of the Holy City, considered such by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, will be of key importance.
The Pope will therefore appear before his Jewish, Christian and Muslim interlocutors, accompanied by two old friends who helped him establish the Institute for dialogue in the Argentine capital. The initiative, Abboud pointed out, became “part of our national identity, a fruit that was eagerly cultivated by a number of leaders and religious leaders” thanks to the key impulse given by the then cardinal Bergoglio to create spaces in which a culture of encounter could be built.”
Of course, Buenos Aires is “on the other side of the world”, miles away from the Middle Eastern tensions. And yet, as the Islamic leader – who like Bergoglio’s priests does not spurn the work done with the poor in the villas miserias, Buenos Aires’ slums – reminds us, “ours is one of the few cities in the world in which co-existence between religions developed in the way we can all see.”
Commenting on the trip and the positive experience of Latin America, on his first visit to Rome after the March 2013 election, Rabbi Skorka received the following response from Pope Francis: “Our dialogue and friendship is proof that it is possible.” “We have done so much together,” Skorka recalled. “The Pope is a true friend of the Jewish people.”