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Rabbi says his friend, the pope, will face challenges in Holy Land



Rome, 18 January 2014: A rabbi who has known Pope Francis for almost 20 years and counts him as a close personal friend said the pope's May trip to the Holy Land will be a challenging balancing act because of the high expectations of Israelis and Palestinians and of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

"There are many themes, many conflicts that he will have to face and there are the expectations of many people," said Rabbi Abraham Skorka, rector of Buenos Aires' Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and co-author with the pope of the book, "On Heaven and Earth."

The rabbi was in Rome in mid-January along with a group of Jewish leaders from Argentina. They had a kosher lunch, catered by a Rome restaurant, with Pope Francis on January 16 at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the pope lives. Rabbi Skorka went back for a private lunch with the pope on January 17.

The rabbi gave a speech on January 16 at the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University about Catholic-Jewish relations in Argentina and met with the press afterward.

He told reporters that the pope's trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine "is a very sensitive theme" and that every detail must be handled very carefully because of the "many themes, many conflicts and the expectations of many people -- some of which are very radical." "This is a great challenge for my friend," he said.

After visits to Jerusalem by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he said, Jews around the world are expecting a further gesture of reconciliation and a sign of the Catholic Church's commitment to moving relations of mutual respect forward.

"What I expect, ask from God and hope with all my heart is that in a very intelligent way, in a very careful way -- because the inhabitants of that region have many passions -- he is able to leave a message of peace that will inspire a dimension of peace for all," the rabbi told those attending his speech. "Obviously, it won't be easy."

"It's easy to imagine the pope being dragged by his coattails from one place to another because of what he represents and what he means," Rabbi Skorka said. However, he said, the pope has the strength and charisma to resist manipulation, "and leave a very positive sign."

"He won't resolve all the problems -- that's impossible," the rabbi said, "but I hope he can leave a sign that can inspire people to peace."

In his main speech, Rabbi Skorka said the book he wrote with the pope, "On Heaven and Earth," is a collection of their dialogues about themes of great concern to people today. "In Argentine society, where the ability to dialogue seems very limited, we wanted to give a living example of the meaning of dialogue in the broadest sense," he said.
Source: CNS




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