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Thought for the Day: Making interfaith inroads

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As the Pope prepares to undertake the customary religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Chief Rabbi delights in the knowledge that other faith leaders are accompanying him – proof that one can remain committed to his own faith while living in harmony with others. A transcript appears below.

“In two days’ time, the Pope will visit Israel, the fourth visit of a Holy Father to the Holy Land.

Pope Francis has visited Jerusalem previously, in October 1973. As soon as he arrived, the Yom Kippur War broke out and he spent a week confined to his hotel, before managing to leave the war-stricken region.

His forthcoming visit will be very different. For me, the most significant feature of the whirlwind trip will be the composition of his entourage. Accompanying the Pontiff on his Pilgrimage of Prayer will be two of his friends from his days in Buenos Aires, a Rabbi, Abraham Skorka and an Imam, Omar Abboud.

By having a Rabbi and an Imam with him on a quintessentially Christian pilgrimage, His Holiness is sending out a powerful message: One can be totally committed to one’s own beliefs and traditions and, at the same time, live peacefully and constructively with members of other faiths.

Christian-Jewish relationships have undergone a transformation of seismic proportions. In the Middle Ages, popes were sources of hostility. For example, Pope Innocent III’s Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 enacted a law whereby Jews living in Christian lands were compelled to wear a badge. The badge was intended to identify Jews as a different and inferior race. This move inspired long-term, horrific Jewish suffering.

‘One can be totally committed to one’s own beliefs and traditions and, at the same time, live peacefully and constructively with members of other faiths’

Recognising the common roots and a shared spiritual bond that Jews and Christians enjoy, Pope Francis has inherited a refreshingly welcome outlook towards Jews and Judaism from Pope John XXIII, whose Second Vatican Council in 1965 produced the landmark “Nostra Aetate”, which paved the way for a new era in Christian-Jewish relations. Pope John Paul II called Jews “our elder brothers and sisters in faith” and Pope Benedict XVI was similarly well disposed to the Jewish people.

In the UK, Faith Leaders are prioritising interfaith dialogue and activity at a time when tensions between faiths can threaten the stability of societies and peace worldwide. We recognise that genuine friendships are the cornerstone of productive interactions through which we can navigate a path to harmonious coexistence, even when confronted by challenging issues. We are heartened that Pope Francis shares our philosophy and champions this outlook.

Through Millennia religion has often been at the heart of war and bloodshed. The strength of religion in the 21st century must lie in a moral voice that will not coerce through dogma, but rather appeal to and embrace all people through humility and the genuine recognition that everyone is created in the image of the Divine.”