We appreciate your faith and your freedom, dear Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.
We would like to send you to the Holy Land.
Could you perhaps come back from this experience with a book?
The phone call from the Vatican, from Lorenzo Fazzini, one of Pope Francis' close collaborators, surprised the novelist who knew that
Oscar and the Pink Lady
had been a success in Italy, but had never really measured its dimension.
This unexpected phone call also upset a schedule, established two years in advance.
Four weeks of professional freedom between the deliberations of the Goncourt Prize and the writing of a new novel enabled him to carry out, a few months later, a trip organized in three parts.
He began by mingling with a group of pilgrims and traveled by bus to the shores of Lake Tiberias, to Capernaum, at the foot of Mount Tabor, then to Nazareth and Bethlehem.
Read alsoChez les pharaons, with Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Along the way, he sacrificed, several times a day, to the ritual of vespers and masses, sang, as best he could, the Ave Maria, and took notes on the deep feelings he was beginning to feel.
He then had a voluntary period of solitude and meditation in a modest hotel in Jerusalem.
He concluded his stay with a visit to the Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, where the library of 300,000 books constantly attracts researchers from all over the world.
One morning, he says, my correspondent from the Vatican called me back, telling me that Pope Francis was expecting me the next day!
“The Pope spoke to me in French”
Jumping on the first plane, he found himself in the private library of the Sovereign Pontiff for a long interview that upset him.
He spoke to me in French and I answered him in Spanish.
I was deeply moved by meeting a man in front of whom one can only feel imperfect
Back in Paris, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt began to write a book telling how this trip had given an extra dimension to his spiritual and intellectual faith.
He immediately came up with the title, “
The Challenge of Jerusalem
A few days later, his Vatican correspondent called him back with a message from the Pope.
He enjoyed their meeting, and was eager to read the pages that this trip had inspired him.
I was finishing the last chapter and I sent him the manuscript the same evening
The response was quick.
While he was in a theater box before playing "
", he discovered on his computer's mailbox an email from His Holiness beginning with "
Caro Eric-Emmanuel, caro fratello
I was so moved that I chose not to read it before going on stage
Returning to the hotel after the performance, he waited until the next morning to discover a long letter in Italian, dated February 16, 2023, which, translated into French, became the afterword to his book.
The Pope confides in him that these pages reminded him of his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014. Referring at length to Jerusalem, he concludes, using the title of his work "The challenge that Jerusalem still poses to the world today is to awaken
in the heart of every human being the desire to regard the other as a brother in the one human family
The Challenge of Jerusalem
, Albin Michel, released on April 6