A rabbi and a sheikh, both of whom are friends of Jorge Bergoglio from Buenos Aires, will be accompanying him on his pilgrimage to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel later this month.
Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, who have been participants in interreligious dialogue with the Pope, will both join the May 24-26 trip, marking the first time that a rabbi and a Muslim dignitary will have done so.
The pilgrimage will focus on the encounter between the Bishop of Rome and Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople.
On the other hand, the dialogue among the three faiths that share Jerusalem as a holy city will be of crucial importance, and this is the reason why Pope Francis wanted to be accompanied by Skorka and Abboud.
Abboud is director of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue, in Buenos Aires, and is a former secretary-general of the Islamic Center of Argentina. He has also worked in the slums of Buenos Aires.
The interreligious institute was founded along with Daniel Goldam, a rabbi, and Fr. Guillermo Marco, former spokesman of the Buenos Aires archdiocese.
“This initiative is part of our national identity, a fruit that was eagerly cultivated by a number of leaders and religious leaders thanks to the key impulse given by the then cardinal Bergoglio to create spaces in which a culture of encounter could be built,” Abboud told Italian daily La Stampa May 3.
Abboud visited Pope Francis in February after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem that gathered Catholics, Muslims, and Jews.
Skorka is rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires, and often met to converse with Bergoglio; those meetings produced the book “On Heaven and Earth,” a record of their dialogue.
He visited Pope Francis in June at Castel Gandolfo, together with participants in a Jewish-Christian dialogue organized by the Focolare Movement; and also in January.
“Our idea is to make a contribution to what dialogue means, to what spirituality means, and what the things of the soul mean, as well as the search for God,” Skorka told La Stampa Jan. 17.
The three religious leaders will arrive in Amman, the Jordanian capital, May 24 and pay a courtesy visit to the nation's king and queen; Pope Francis will later address national authorities.
That afternoon he will say Mass, then visit Bethany beyond the Jordan, the site where John the Baptist was baptizing. There, Pope Francis will address refugees and the physically disabled.
The following day, Pope Francis will travel to Palestine to visit Bethlehem, meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, saying Mass, and praying the Regina Caeli.
He will lunch with Palestinian families at the Franciscan convent of Casa Nova, and then make a private visit to the grotto of the nativity. After this, he will be greeted by refugee children, and then depart by helicopter for Israel.
He will meet in private with Patriarch; the two will sign a joint declaration, after which there will be a public ecumenical meeting at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.
On May 26, Pope Francis will meet Jerusalem's Grand Mufti, the Sunni cleric entrusted with the city's Muslim holy places.
He will then visit the Western Wall and lay a wreath at Mount Herzl, the site of Israel's national cemetery, and then make a discourse at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial of the Holocaust, and meet with Jerusalem's chief rabbis.
In the afternoon he will meet in private with Patriarch Bartholomew, aside the Orthodox parish on the Mount of Olives, after which he will meet with priests, religious, and seminarians at the church of Gethsemane.
Pope Francis will say Mass with the ordinaries of the Holy Land and the Papal suite at the Cenacle, and he will preach at the Mass.
In the evening, he will fly from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, say farewell to Israel, and return to Rome.