An Open Letter to Pope Francis

Your Holiness,

As a member of the Jewish nation, and as a practicing Jew,  I believe that all things in this world carry God’s mark.

And yet He gives us the freedom to leave our mark on His Creation. This Godly gift no one can take away from us.

I also believe that with the new millennium we are facing challenges that have global implications and may change the world as we know it. It is a critical time of change, where all that we in the West have taken for granted, such as freedom, dialogue, exchange, are no longer as self-evident as we once thought.

In times of change and uncertainty, spiritual leaders fulfil a central role, and the leadership of your Holiness is of course crucial in that respect.

Your Holiness, I have followed your visits worldwide.  You were never deterred by bombs exploding, bombers diving through the sky, landmines, disease or famine-stricken lands.  You have served as a source of faith and courage to millions of people living under the permanent threat of war, starvation, disease.  And you delivered unto them that for which they came: solace and faith and hope.

You gave people love.  You guided them to find again that which they could not find as bombs were exploding, limbs were being severed, children were orphaned, parents were grieving over their babes, husbands and wives were widowed.  It is the love you gave that they returned.   That is the way of love, a perpetual giving and receiving.

There is so much suffering in this world.  So much pain and discord.  How is it possible to find love and all that comes with it, hope and courage and faith, in a world so pitiless and cruel? It is so moving to all of us that you engaged in a moving prayer session in the Vatican with the President of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority. It is our hope that this image sends a clear message to the people of our region.

In this part of the world we daily witness man’s cruelty.  The father of the Jewish nation, Abraham, had two sons: Yitzhak and Ishmael.  The descendants of these brothers have been embroiled in bloodshed for half a century.  In the last 15 months, the fighting between the two peoples has intensified.  When will this stop? Whether Jew or Arab or Christian, we who live here keep praying for this cycle of violence to end.   But the fighting goes on, and the suffering goes on.   Every week there are more orphans, widows, parents mourning their little ones.   When will this end and what is it all for? Why can’t we lift ourselves above this cruelty? Why must we cause each other grief? Bombs explode amidst our prayers. We cling to our faith.  The bombs go on exploding in our midst. Jew or Arab, we are all human beings, children of one father.  Why cannot this suffering stop?

I am no head of state, nor am I a political leader.  I am part of the vast and silent majority.  I have decided to turn to you because I believe that in times of crisis such as this, your Holiness has a crucial role.

From your personal history I have learned that you have carried in your arms people who lay helpless and dying. According to the Jewish tradition, when Moses was a shepherd he came across a lamb that was limping along.

Moses took the lamb in his arms and brought it to a water spring.  God said unto him: “You who have pity in your heart for a lamb, you will shepherd the People of Israel.”

In our darkest times, when we were persecuted and slaughtered because of our faith, we survived because God had chosen to lead us through those who had never lost their faith.

When during World War II, you endangered yourself to save others, you never stopped to consider what was the faith of those you were delivering to safety.  Yours was never a conditional love.

Everyone is talking of the need for political or military solutions. I believe that other kinds of solutions are necessary: moral and spiritual solutions.  We need to learn to love each other unconditionally and regardless of our faith.

I believe that your visit in the Holy Land had a huge effect on the people in this region and worldwide.

I am not only a believer, but also a dreamer and an incorrigible optimist. Nothing will ever stop me from believing that things can improve, and that there is always a way out of the toughest situations, that no mountain is too high to climb.  It is because of my faith, and because of the deep respect I hold for your Holiness, that I humbly present to you this dream I have had for quite some time, and all the more so since this region has once more fallen into a vicious cycle of fighting.

Your Holiness, I believe that were you to come here, heading a delegation of leaders of all faiths, it would have a very strong impact on the warring parties, and will help bring together West and East, the Christian and Muslim worlds, which as a result of the September 11 terror attacks on the United States and the war in Afghanistan, need to go through a process of healing and acceptance, and return to dialogue and cooperation.

I envisage this as a mission of love and peace in whose wake a global moratorium of hostilities will be declared.  I envisage your Holiness calling upon the people of the world to hold hands together and to in unison declare their love and respect for each other.

I do not think that this is either impossible or naive.  I believe that such a visit can change the world as it is now.  A message of love delivered by your Holiness can do that.

Thousands will follow in your footsteps. This will lift this region out of the economic slump, which has been generated by the fighting.  Jews and Arabs will once again cooperate and work together, side by side.

It is not for me or any man to say that this is your calling.   All I can say is that I cannot think of any other leader but your Holiness who has the spiritual power that is needed to lift this region out of conflict and bloodshed.

You have brought millions of people together all over the world.  I believe that you can bring people together here too.   And not only here, as you proclaim a message of love and peace from Jerusalem, it will reverberate throughout the world.


Dr. David Altman

Senior Vice President

Netanya Academic College

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center