How to Make Peace:  Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka

By Shlomo  Maital

Pope Skorka

Pope Francis with Rabbi Abraham Skorka

I am writing this blog while watching on TV the arrival of Pope Francis in Jerusalem, brought by a Jordanian helicopter, greeted by our Prime Minister and President.  While watching the Pope, dressed in simple white robes, I am reading On Heaven and Earth, the 2010 book recording the dialogue between Pope Francis (then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an Argentinean Conservative Rabbi and long-time friend of Bergoglio.  Skorka has come to Jerusalem to join the papal visit. 

   The book contains 29 dialogues on wide-ranging topics, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, money, poverty, same-sex marriage, divorce, euthanasia, divorce, abortion, the holocaust, and the future of religion. 

    Almost the very first passage I read, is one by the Pope about dialogue.  Here is what he writes:   Dialogue is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say.

    How sad that neither Israelis nor Palestinians can say truthfully, that they believe the other side is worthy of  respect and has something good to say.  We cannot make peace unless we respect each other.  Will both sides listen to this good man, as a first step toward making peace?

     (Dialogue) supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion and their proposals.

     Do Israelis and Palestinians truly understand the other side’s position?  Can Israelis state the Palestinian position clearly, with understanding and empathy? Can the Palestinians?  I doubt it.  Will we listen to the Pope and try to do so?

       Dialogue entails a warm reception and not a preemptive condemnation.  To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defenses, to open the doors of one’s home and to offer warmth.

      Rabbi Skorka and I have been able to dialogue and it has done us good.  With Rabbi Skorka I never had to compromise my Catholic identity, just like he never had to with his Jewish identity, and this was not only out of the respect we have for each other, but also because of how we understand interreligious dialogue.

     I have a radical idea.  American Secretary of State  John Kerry is just one of a long line of well-meaning Americans who have failed to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.    

     Why not let the Pope have a shot at it?   Why not let the Pope teach Israelis and Palestinians how to dialogue? He certainly can’t do any worse than Obama.  He might do a whole lot better.     The Pope is clearly an expert at dialogue.  Dialogue is how you make peace.  We have had no such dialogue for years – only monologues.  Let’s begin by practicing true dialogue. Let’s talk about, say, football and movies.  When we learn to truly dialogue, then, we can tackle the tough issues. 

     We welcome the Pope to our country, and hope all our leaders will all listen to and learn from this humble and visionary good man.