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Yehuda Kurtzer Interviewed on CNN About Pope Francis Visit to Holy Land

‘The mission of his trip is not to create political problems but to model a type of interfaith discourse and model the possibility of Jews, Christians and Muslims praying together and being hopeful together’

Yehuda Kurtzer on CNN, May 23, 2014
(Edited transcript from CNN live interview, May 23, 2014)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now: Rabbi Yehuda Kurtzer , president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and Imam Mohamed Magid president of Islamic Society of North America. Welcome to you both.






COSTELLO: Thank you so much for being here. Dr. Kurtzer I want to start with you. Why is the Pope bringing guests? Why not go visit these places alone? Why is he stirring the pot, so to speak?


KURTZER: I’m actually not sure that the Pope is stirring the pot as much as trying to avoid controversy. He’s framed this trip primarily as a religious pilgrimage and I think he’s trying to send a message by bringing colleagues on an interfaith mission that this is still a holy land. That it’s primarily historically been a holy land and that the mission of his trip is not to create political problems but to model a type of interfaith discourse and model the possibility of Jews, Christians and Muslims praying together and being hopeful together.


COSTELLO: And I hear — I hear you Dr. Kurtzer. But Imam Magid, the Pope said the same thing. He said this holy land excursion is strictly religious. Earlier he had described it as a pilgrimage for prayer. But how can it not be political in this particular part of the world?


MAGID: I would like to — to take another understanding of this mission is to raise the profile of the interfaith work to have religious leaders around the world model this example, build an example after this model of the Pope taking an imam and a rabbi with him to the Holy Land. I do believe that the Christianity and Islam and Judaism share the same roots of Abrahamic faith. And the Holy Land having to have Christians and Muslim and Jews living there for a long time together, it’s about time to get the leaders of those three major religions to think about peace, to pray together for peace.


COSTELLO: That sounds so wonderful. But Dr. Kurtzer, I know that the Pope is going for religious reasons. But he’s also expected to call for a Palestinian state which has long been a Vatican policy. And that will surely upset some Israelis, won’t it?


KURTZER: Religion can’t ever remain divorced from politics, especially in the Middle East, and I think part of the implicit message that the Pope is sending is that the negotiation process should take into account religious instabilities in a way that it hasn’t in the past. It’s often been portrayed as a secular national conflict, and there are so many religious instabilities that there’s a possibility of reconciliation through religion.


No doubt that whatever the Pope says with respect to the Palestinians will anger some Israelis, even though I think there’s a wide consensus among Israelis – among people worldwide – about the inevitability of a Palestinian state and the need for a much better reconciliation. There is no question there’s going to be moments along this trip that are going to be so heavily interpreted of the choices that he makes, the places that he visits, how he portrays who the victims are in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and the historical relationship between Jews and the church.


So, you’re right. There will be political traps but I agree with the Imam that I think what he’s trying to do is to model the way in which religion can be a source of resolution to this conflict and not an indicator of the conflict all together.


COSTELLO: And Imam Magid, I think the Pope is trying to demonstrate what the Dr. Kurtzer was describing. He’s not going to travel in a protected vehicle, an armored vehicle down the streets of Jerusalem, let’s say. He’s going to try to be out amongst the people. And I’m sure that will kind of be concerning to security forces there. Do you think that’s a good idea? What message does that send when the Pope does things like that?


MAGID: I think the message he tried to send that we have to create an environment of tolerance and understanding for everyone. No one should fear any kind of backlash of practicing being open about the religion. This is the Holy Land. Everyone should be able to practice freely their faith and I do believe that the freedom of religion is one of the most important principles the Pope will like to convey here is that everyone should have no fear to be able to be who they are and practice their religion freely.


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