Recently, I had the privilege of talking with Pope Francis about the upcoming observances of Hanukkah and Christmas. Sitting in a small room with simple furniture in Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican, we spoke especially of the meaning of the two celebrations in the context of the current state of global affairs.
Particularly on our minds was the heartlessness being displayed in many countries against immigrants, as well as the upsurge of anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence in many places. As a professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, I have seen very recently the devastating impact of the murders of Jews in Pittsburgh, in Poway (California), and now in Jersey City. The mass killings of Muslims and Christians in distant countries horrified us both.
The Holy Father and I pondered how such things could be happening in this day and age. I was deeply touched when during our exchange Pope Francis confessed that some of the language he is hearing today reminds him of Hitler’s anti-Semitic tirades in the 1930s.
Hanukkah recalls for the Jewish people the struggle of their ancestors over two thousand years ago for religious freedom when a foreign overlord wanted to strip them of their spiritual identities. Through special prayers and the lighting of the eight Hanukkah candles, we Jews praise God for the success of their struggle long ago and recommit ourselves to faithfulness to God. It was the struggle of a people who defended the values of pluralism and mutual respect that the Jewish tradition finds rooted in the Bible.
The Holy Father stressed that for Christians, the celebration of the birth of Jesus points ahead to God’s promise of a world at peace. We referred to our shared Scriptures in the Hebrew Bible, and the prophetic anticipation of a time when the lion and the kid graze together and humanity is as one in praising God. We shared together our common vision and the hope of Christians and Jews for the messianic future in which peace and fraternity prevail. The Pope emphasized that Jews and Christians are both looking ahead to the fulfillment of God’s will for all creation.
May Jews and Christians, as they observe Hanukkah and Christmas in the same days this year, recall this shared hope and longing for a world at peace!
Rabbi Abraham Skorka is a visiting university professor at the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, after serving for almost 20 years as professor of biblical and rabbinic literature and rector at the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer in Buenos Aires, Argentina. With the future Pope Francis, he hosted over 30 television programs in Argentina, and co-wrote On Heaven and Earth, a book on their dialogues. Visit Rabbi Skorka’s blog here.
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