Pope Francis in Israel

Pope Francis in Israel

So a rabbi, a sheik, and a priest go to Israel…

Okay, so the priest is the chief priest, the Archbishop of Rome, Pope Francis, and the rabbi and the imam are two old friends from Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Sheik Omar Abboud. (Rabbi Skorka, the former rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires, co-wrote a book with the pope when he was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, and Sheik Omar Abboud is a former secretary-general of the Islamic Center of Argentina.)

And the situation is not a joke but something both real and good.

Pope Francis is going to Jordan, the West Bank, and Jerusalem this week; he will visit places sacred to Jews and Muslims as well as to Christians. His visit, the fourth made by a pope to the Jewish states, comes 50 years after Pope Paul VI toured; that pope helped reconcile Eastern Rite and Roman Catholics, but he did not once use the word “Israel” as he breathed the country’s air and stood in its pure golden light.

Each visit since then has improved the relationship between Catholics and Jews. Granted, there has been a chasm between us, but the tectonic motions have been drawing us slowly closer.

Three local rabbis – Shmuel Goldin, Eugene Korn, and Noam Marans – all have met with Pope Francis, and each one has been moved by the pope’s sincerity, goodness, humility, and charisma. He is the real thing, each of them has said.

That allows us to hope that this visit, too, will be something real. Of course the visit by a pope – who presides over an institution with enough of its own problems to keep him busy – can provide nothing more solid or long-lasting than the memory of a goodwill gesture, but the gesture is powerful.