Pope Francis received a major honor at the Vatican this week—from an Israeli university. Bar-Ilan University’s president offered the Pope the Tel Aviv institution’s highest honor, the Award of Distinction, in front of a small audience in Rome, JTA reports. The award commemorated the Pope’s “lifelong efforts promoting peace and fighting for human rights,”
Francis, formerly the archbishop of Buenos Aires, has long been a proponent of interfaith dialogue and exchange, even before he got to the Vatican (and assumed rock star status). His old friend from Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, served as his personal tour guide when the Pope visited Israel this spring. On that trip he used his prayer, not politics approach to the region’s deep-seated tensions, inviting then-Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican for a prayer session. He also offered offered a moving tribute to the Jewish victims of the deadly 1994 Buenos Aires JCC bombing on the 20th anniversary of the attack this summer.
The award was the initial step in former Israeli President Shimon Peres’ plan to make Bar-Ilan a hub of interfaith engagement, a proposal Francis is said to support. “We are the sons of Abraham and we have the privilege and the responsibility to guide humankind on the path to peace,” the Pope said upon receiving the award.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.