Pope greets Jewish visitors, including old rabbi friend

ROME (JTA) — Pope Francis greeted about 30 Jews and Catholics from Italy and the Americas who took part a symposium on Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Among the Jewish participants was the pope’s old friend from Buenos Aires, Rabbi Abraham Skorka.

The four-day seminar, which concluded Thursday, was organized by the Focolare Movement, an international Christian organization promoting brotherhood, and took place at Castel Gandolfo, the town outside Rome where the pope has a summer residence.

The participants, from the U.S., Italy, Uruguay and Argentina, had front-row places at the pope’s weekly public audience in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, and were greeted there by the pontiff.

Skorka hosted a TV talk show on religion with the pope when the pontiff was Buenos Aires Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and also co-authored a book with him on interfaith relations, called “On Heaven and Earth.”

Skorka told reporters that Pope Francis was a “true friend” with whom he could discuss everything. While they were working on the book, Skorka said, he, the future pope and a journalist collaborator all lost close family members. Bergoglio, he said, helped them accept the death of their loved ones.

“To die means to have the strength and the courage to give your soul to God,” Skorka said, quoting the then-Cardinal. “That comment he made was very healing for our hearts.”

Skorka said Francis was “wonderful” as pope and had already achieved “spiritual success” since his election as pontiff in March. He predicted the pope would continue “emphasizing changes, accepting challenges more and more, undoubtedly with God’s help and God’s blessings.

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