Ahead of Pope Francis' arrival in the Holy Land on May 24, over 450 American rabbis have signed a letter of welcome as he embarks on a tour of many sites sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
The letter expresses their appreciation for the Pope's continued efforts for interreligious dialogue and message of justice and peace. It will be published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz on May 25, with signatures spanning a full four pages, according to a press release sent to The Huffington Post on behalf of the Center for Interreligious Understanding and Rabbi Jack Bemporad. A paper copy will be presented to the pope.
The welcome from the Rabbis contrasts with protests by some Jewish groups against the Pope's plan to celebrate Mass at the site believed to be where Jesus held what is known as the Last Supper with his disciples.
There has also been a recent uptick in anti-Christian hate graffiti ; so-called "price tag" attacks by Jewish extremists that are worrying Church officials ahead of the Pope's visit.
In response to the vandalism, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem announced plans for an awareness campaign to combat the "wave of fanaticism and intimidation” against churches.
The text of the rabbis' letter to Pope Francis said:
“Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.”
Second Vatican Council, 1965
To His Holiness Pope Francis:
In this spirit, we – Rabbis and Jewish leaders -- warmly welcome you and your mission of peace to Israel. With one voice, we are united in our commitment to interreligious dialogue, to opening more paths to increased understanding.
With you we are here to build bridges so that we can traverse these bridges of faith together in a journey of hope for justice, equality and peace, and to continually recognize and strengthen the important relationship between Catholics and Jews worldwide.
And where better to reaffirm that relationship, than in the Holy Land of Israel, a place both religions treasure as part of a shared heritage.
Peace be with you,
Signed by over 430 rabbis and Jewish leaders
The Center for Interreligious Understanding and Rabbi Jack Bemporad wrote a similar letter of welcome in 2009, when Pope Benedict XVI visited Israel. Some 200 rabbis and Jewish leaders added their names to the letter.
Bemporad said to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "This experience shows that there is recognition among Jewish leaders that dialogue is essential. A strong commitment to open dialogue can forge a relationship between Catholics and Jews that can become a model for people of all faiths."