Rabbi Abraham Skorka to Visit and Receive Eternal Light Award

Rabbi Skorka

On November 1, 2016, Rabbi Abraham Skorka will visit the campus of Saint Leo University, and will be the focus of a special conference, entitled “Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Internationally, and in Florida.” We have a full day of sessions planned around the visit of this influential religious leader, all listed in detail on our CCJS website.

Rabbi Skorka is the leader of the Jewish community Benei Tikva, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the rector of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano. Rabbi Skorka is also a professor of biblical and rabbinic literature at the seminary, and honorary professor of Hebrew law at the University of Salamanca.

Even with those credentials, it is for his close relationship with Pope Francis that the rabbi has become rather famous. In fact, he is frequently referred to as “the Pope’s Rabbi.” When asked by The Guardian about his friendship with Pope Francis, Skorka said, "We've learnt a lot from each other . . . we've influenced each other. Our dialogues have always been, frank, direct, genuine. We can interpret each other's hearts." The relationship between Skorka and Francis epitomizes not only the sort of dialogue and mutual respect called for by the Second Vatican Council's declaration, Nostra Aetate, it illustrates aspects of the cooperation and partnership now called for as the next step in the writings from our new era of Jewish-Christian relations. (e.g., The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable section 49; To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians sections 6 and 7).

Skorka was committed to interreligious dialogue before his rise to fame alongside Pope Francis, though. After he was ordained a rabbi in 1973, Skorka began working at congregation Lamroth Hakol, in Buenos Aires. Apparently the senior rabbi of the congregation was best friends with a priest at a time when such relationships were rare, and this impacted Skorka. In fact, Skorka recalled at one point that this priest gave a talk at Lamroth Hakol and he remembers that the priest said that the way to uproot anti-Semitism was through dialogue because, "to love the other you must know the other.” Skorka says that he pursued dialogue with both Catholics and Muslims as a “third career” from that moment on. In 1995, he would meet the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, and a joke about their rival soccer teams sparked what would become a fruitful friendship with the future Pope Francis.

Their relationship involved hours of dialogue on theological, philosophical, and political topics; some were even televised. In 2010, a book containing some of their dialogues was published in Argentina, and in 2015, published in English as On Heaven and Earth (Image, 2015). The conversations printed in the book seem to me to be a model of interreligious dialogue. Skorka’s dialogues with Pope Francis were also discussed in an interview he granted for a 60 Minutes special entitled “Francis” that aired on April 13, 2014.

Skorka’s story reflects a strong commitment to building partnerships that last for decades on the local (rather than official and international) level. And it also seems significant that he began this “third career” of interreligious dialogue in a non-European context—a context that is increasingly important for both Catholics and Jews. His example provides Jewish and Catholic communities who may be unaware of the teachings in important religious documents with a rather vivid picture of how dialogue and respect among Jews and Catholics in the local neighborhood can be a way of life.

Susannah Heschel 2On November 2, at Temple Emanu-El, in Sarasota, FL, Rabbi Skorka will be awarded the 13th Eternal Light Award. In his keynote address, Rabbi Skorka will discuss the impact of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s writings on his life and work. And we are very fortunate to have Dr. Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth College, the daughter of Abraham Joshua Heschel, serve as the respondent.

All events are free and open to the public but space is limited. Please contact us,  indicating that you plan to attend “ALL”, “NOV. 1 only,” or “NOV. 2 only,” to Penny  Freeman at (352) 588-8288 or be email at penny.freeman@saintleo.edu.