One of the world’s leading figures in Jewish-Catholic relations has condemned the Vatican for failing to include an event bringing together Israelis and Palestinians as part of his historic visit to the region.
Pope Francis will take in Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel during a packed three-day schedule that includes meetings with political and religious figures and visits to some of the holiest sites in the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths. Though he will be the third consecutive head of the Catholic Church to touch down in Israel, he will be the first to include a rabbi and imam in the papal delegation.
But Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee and one of the few Jewish papal knights, said the inclusion of the pair “only highlights the extremely disappointing fact that there is no Israeli-Palestinian interfaith encounter of any kind with local representatives of the faiths communities in this land on the programme. Isn’t it disappointing if the “The pope of Peace” does nothing to advance relations between the faiths here?”
Interfaith advisor to Israel’s chief rabbinate, Rabbi Rosen said Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2009 included two interfaith events in Jerusalem and Nazareth. “To bring along an Argentinian rabbi and imam is very nice, but in light of the absence of any local interfaith initiative, it looks rather like a cop out,” he told the Jewish News.
Touching down at Ben Gurion on Sunday, the Israel leg of the visit will see Pope Francis hold talks with Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s two chief rabbis while he will also tour Yad Vashem and lay a wreath at Mount Herzl.
Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who developed a close friendship with the future pope when he served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, has been invited to be part of the delegation along with Omar Abboud, former Secretary-General of the Islamic Centre of Argentina. Skorka told the Jewish News that being part of the official group was “a great honour and special responsibility”.
“I hope that during this trip the Pope will have the possibilities and God’s blessing to conform a special message of peace between Jews and Christians and Israelis and Christians.” Rabbi Skorka said the pair on a number of occasions “analysed the importance of the State of Israel as the historical place of the recreation of Jewish spirituality”.
Meanwhile, several hundred Jewish protesters voiced their opposition to plans for Pope Francis to hold mass in a room some Orthodox Jews believe to be the burial place of King David. Religious groups massed outside the Jerusalem room, known as the Cenacle, which Christians believe the room hosted the Last Supper and Muslims hold dear as the site of a mosque in Ottoman times.
The prospect of a religious service being held there has led to some anger, with protesters saying that a mass would contravene an agreement dating back to the British Mandate, which bars religious rituals being held there.
Earlier this year, Rabbi Skorka said he believed that the head of the Catholic Church will open the secret Vatican archives in an effort to shed new light on the wartime activities of his predecessor Pope Pius XIII – something he advocated in a book the pair co-wrote.
Francis, who had a close relationship with the Argentinian Jewish community, wrote last year that the Catholic Church holds “the Jewish people in special regard” and expressed regret for persecution suffered at the hands of Christians.