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The story of a journey

· In conversation with Abraham Skorka ·

“He called me on my cellphone while I was walking down the street with my son Rafael, who is specializing in cardiology. He told me: ’Please continue your walk with your son’. He was aware of everything because he had telephoned my wife Silvia. They had spoken mainly about work, rehabilitation and physical cures because my wife is a physiotherapist and she deals primarily with children in intensive therapy”. It was last 18 March, the first day of the solemn beginning of his pontificate. 

Abraham Skorka, in a long conversation with this article’s author and with the Editor-in-Chief of our our newspaper, recalled the first telephone call he received from Bergoglio just days after his election in the conclave. He especially recalled how his friendship with the Archbishop of Buenos Aires began and grew through the years. He also described how the journey of their friendship continues to grow now, under such different and yet such similar circumstances: “When he received me in his study, which was filled with books, letters and newspapers, he told me: ‘I am very comfortable here at Santa Marta, it's untidy just like at my home’”.

Even before becoming a fraternal friend and companion along the way, Skorka’s name was known to the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who read and appreciated the articles he wrote for the daily La Nación as Rector of the Latin American Rabbinic Seminary. “I once interviewed him. He was already Pope and he telephoned me on my cellphone; so I took the opportunity to interview him. The editor-in-chief of the magazine Criterio, José María Poirier, had just sent me a questionnaire, a list of questions for people who knew him. Given that I was on the telephone with the Pope, I asked him for several clarifications. At the end, he only corrected me only on one word. “Strange that they ask me questions about Catholicism,” I said to him, to which he responded: “Apparently this is the way God wants it”.

Argentina has a history of very rich dialogue between religions: “Just think of the friendship between Guillermo Schlesinger and Fr Carlos Cucchetti, the books co-authored by bishops and rabbis, such as that by Bishop Justo Laguna and Mario Rojsman or that by Estansislao Estban Karlic and Jorge María Mejía. Many Jews arrived in Argentina in successive waves together with many immigrants who were encouraged to populate the vast territory of our country. Since 1880 and then in the 20s and 30s. The families of my father and mother left [their homeland] to seek better living conditions and to escape anti-semitism, which was very strong in Poland. My father came from Końskie and my mother from Lodz. My wife Silvia is the daughter of German Jews who escaped from Germany in 1939. Her grandfather was captured during the “Night of Broken Glass”; his wife did everything in her power to have him released and they managed to flee in 1939. In the 20s in Buenos Aires, two dailies were published in Yiddish, and the Jewish world of culture was always very active”.

When the questions touched on the subject of Pope Francis’ upcoming journey to the Holy Land, the Rector of the Latin American Rabbinic Seminary recalled Nostrae aetate and Pope John xxiii gesture in introducing himself as Joseph, “your brother”. “This expression,” Skorka added, “struck me in a particular way, also because the biblical account of Joseph’s brothers recognizing him is the scene from Genesis that is represented on the façade of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires”.

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