Two and a half years after Rabbi Adam Raskin penned a letter to Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac will get to meet the man he admires. Raskin is one of about a dozen religious leaders invited to a multireligious service at Ground Zero.
Raskin was invited to attend the upcoming Sept. 25 service at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City and listen as the Pope delivers a message to a small gathering of 9-11 rescue workers, survivors and family members of those who did not survive.
“I am very excited” for this once in a lifetime experience, Raskin said. It’s important that religious leaders “do everything we can to advocate for peaceful relations with other religions.”
While not sure if he will be permitted to speak directly with the Pope, Raskin said that if he is given time, he plans to let the Pope know “how much I appreciate his closeness and respect for the Jewish people.”
Besides Raskin and Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, the other invitees include representatives from Buddhist, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh faiths.
Prior to the service, the Pope will spend time in Washington, D.C., arriving at Joint Base Andrews on the afternoon of Sept. 22. The following day, he will visit the White House and speak with President Barack Obama in the morning before heading a parade along the ellipse and National Mall that is scheduled to go from 11 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.
He also will lead services at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that afternoon.
On Thursday, the Pope will address a Joint Session of Congress and then visit St. Patrick’s Catholic Chruch and Catholic Charities.
When he was first elected in 2013, the news centered around what a humble man he was – carrying his own luggage at the airport, paying his own hotel bill and personally calling the owner of a Buenos Aires newstand to say he wouldn’t need his morning paper delivered any longer.
“Very impressed with his humility,” Raskin decided to reach out to the leader of the world’s Catholics.
In his letter, Raskin wrote that the Pope reminded him of Moses, who is described in the Torah as humble. He told the Pope that those little touches were very meaningful to him.
When he mailed that letter, “I didn’t even have any expectation of him writing back,” Raskin said. “I wanted to send greetings.” But a few weeks later, Raskin received a note from Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., thanking him.
“That was it for a while,” until Raskin attended an event at the Embassy of Argentina, the Pope’s native country, to hear Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-authored a book on interfaith dialogue with Pope Francis. Also present at that event was the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States.
Raskin spoke with officials that night, expressing his interest in getting involved in any interfaith opportunities that the Vatican might be planning.
Raskin penned another letter to the Pope, this time stating “I would be very honored if you would consider me as someone representing the Jewish religion,” Raskin recalled.
“Months and months went by,” and Raskin heard nothing, although by this time the Pope’s visit to the area had already been announced.
Then, right before Shabbat on Sept. 11, Raskin received a letter from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, inviting him to attend the New York event.
Thanks to “a real old fashioned letter” and not social media, Raskin will be heading to New York.
Said Raskin, the Pope relates to average person, and that is “a really important teaching for all us religious leaders.”