Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"On Heaven and Earth": a Pope and a Rabbi

(photo courtesy of

It's a measure of my attachment to this six-and-a-half-hour-long audiobook that would listen to it in my driveway when coming home from my commute, and I felt sad this morning when I finished listening it on my drive to my high-school teaching job. This book is for anyone interested in issues of faith, of history and culture and on a friendship that shapes the life of the current Holy Father. Indeed, I found echoes of one of my friendships in theirs.

"On Heaven and Earth," first published in Argentina in 2010, is a conversation between Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a Conservative Jew and a biophysicist. In their home country, the two religious leaders avidly promoted inter-religious dialogue and the book is a series of conversations the two dear friends had about issues ranging from abortion to fundamentalism to the Middle East.  I also learned a bit about the history of Argentina, which is my maternal grandmother's homeland.

"I believe that undoubtedly the most important thing that brought us together was, and still is, G-d, who caused our paths to cross and allowed us to open our hearts to each other. Although we broached many topics during our regular conversations, we never spoke explicitly about G-d. Of course, it was always understood that He was present. It would be good to start this exchange, which we plan to leave as a testimony of our dialogue, by  discussing Him who is so important in our lives." 
                                                                                                                     Abraham Skorka

"In   my personal experience with God   I cannot do without the path. I would say that one encounters God walking, moving, seeking Him and allowing oneself to be sought by Him. They are two paths that meet. On one hand, there is our path that seeks Him, driven by that instinct that flows from the heart; and after, when we have encountered each other, we realize that He was the one who had been searching for us from the start." 
                                                                                                          Jorge Mario Bergoglio

To listen to this book is to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, in an intense, intimate and respectful conversation between two wise and kind old men. The conversations also give a measure of comfort to those of us in the second half of our lives; the men talk about what we inherit from our ancestors and what we pass on to future generations. Their perspectives, their horizons are broad and encompass human history. (By the way, did you know Rabbi Skorka spent five days at the Vatican and observed Sukkot together?)

I have always been intrigued by the connections between the Catholic faith and Judaism; I grew up with as many Jewish classmates as Catholic and for nearly two decades my husband and I have lived in a town where observant Jews far outnumber practicing Catholics. And so I found it fascinating to learn more about the ways in which Jewish thought has shaped Catholic Christian teaching. In fact, at times it was difficult for me to distinguish which man was speaking; the connections run so deep.

Now that I have finished listening, I plan to give this audiobook to one of my next-door neighbors. She and I are friends; she is watching our boys grow up from the vantage point of a mother of three married daughters and the grandmother to nine grandchildren and counting. F. and her husband are Orthodox Jews and one thing I cherish is the way she and I see the world is such similar ways despite the differences in our faith and cultural traditions.

F. is excited about listening to this book too; she told me she is deeply moved by Pope Francis and she says he is the kind of religious leader a world torn apart by conflict needs. It's comforting to realize that our friendship, which deals with faith, gardening and mothering, has echoes of one between a pope and a rabbi.