2014-05-16 16:42:50

Jew, Muslim join Pope's delegation in Holy Land

May 16, 2014 - ‎A rabbi and a Muslim leader will join Pope Francis on his upcoming trip to the Holy Land, the first time an official papal delegation has included members of other faiths, the Vatican said Thursday. The Argentine Pope’s two longtime friends and collaborators from his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, a leader of Argentina's Islamic community, are on the official delegation for the May 24-26 trip to Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel. Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi said their presence on the delegation was an ``absolute novelty'' desired by Francis to show the ``normality'' of having friends of other faiths. Skorka and then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio together wrote ``On Heaven and Earth,'' which explores Jewish and Catholic perspectives on a host of issues. Abboud, meanwhile, was Card. Bergoglio's main Muslim interlocutor in Buenos Aires and recently participated in an Argentine interfaith pilgrimage tracing the key stops of Pope Francis' upcoming tour.

The main purpose of the Pontiff’s 3-day Holy Land trip is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ‎historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in ‎Jerusalem‎ in 1964, the first such encounter between the Catholic and Orthodox heads in over 500 years since the bitter ‎Schism of 1054, that split Christianity into two groups. Pope Francis will meet with the current Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, on four separate occasions during his packed three-day visit. The highlight is a prayer service inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of Christianity's holiest sites where the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Fr. Lombardi said that service in itself will be ``extraordinarily historic'' given that the three main Christian communities that share the church _ Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic _ will pray together at the same time. Prayer services at the ancient church are usually separate, with each community jealously guarding its turf and scheduling individual services.

Pope Francis has a heavy schedule during the three days 13 speeches or homilies, private audiences with leaders of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians, meetings with patriarchs, muftis, rabbis and refugees, as well as symbolic visits to some of the holiest sites in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Fr. Lombardo also said that Pope Francis is shunning bulletproof vehicles during the Holy Land trip, opting for a normal open-top car to be able to be as close to people as possible. "The pope wants an open popemobile and a normal car. The local security official took the desire of the pope into consideration," Father Lombardi said. Pope Francis uses a blue Ford Focus in Rome and during his trip to Brazil last July, he was driven around Rio de Janeiro in a small silver Fiat at his own request.

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