More than 100 Catholic parishioners walked to a synagogue on Charleston’s East End to show solidarity with Pope Francis, who will be traveling to Jerusalem next month to meet with Jewish and Muslim leaders.
The Sunday walk began at the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Leon Sullivan Way after the noon mass and ended at B’Nai Jacob Synagogue on Virginia Street East. It was a way for the parishioners to get to know each other, see more of the East End and to learn more about the Jewish faith.
They called it the Pilgrimage of Prayer. Monsignor Edward Sadie, rector of Sacred Heart, and Rabbi Victor Urecki, of B’Nai Jacob, led the way along Virginia Street. The large group stopped a few times to offer prayer and song.
Pope Francis will make a pilgrimage from the Vatican to Jerusalem on May 23 and will meet with the religious and political leaders of the Jewish and Muslim faiths as well as Palestinian leaders. Of special note, said Sadie, is the Pope’s meeting with Bartholomew I, the leader of the Eastern Orthodox church also known as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Sadie said the Eastern Orthodox beliefs are close to Catholicism, the “only difference” being the authority of the Pope. The monsignor said he’d hoped to see the unification of the two churches in his lifetime. Though he doubts it will happen any time soon, he still says of the two faiths, “they’re constantly getting closer and closer.”
The monsignor donned a black kippah, or yarmulke, a skullcap most of the men wore after they entered the synagogue, near the front altar at B’Nai Jacob while Urecki spoke to the group that had come from Sacred Heart.
The rabbi gave a condensed history of the Jewish faith — “4,000 years in three-and-a-half minutes,” Urecki said, which earned a respectful chuckle from the large group.
He explained the three words that largely explain the faith are God, Torah and Israel and that the three main sects of the faith are Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.
B’Nai Jacob, he said, is a non-denominational Jewish synagogue but has traditional services. Temple Israel, Charleston’s only other synagogue, practices Reform Judaism.
“We’re not really Reform or Orthodox,” Urecki said.
He said the Reform Jews would say B’Nai Jacob is more Orthodox, but that those of the Orthodox background would say that’s not right either.
Urecki spoke about the Torah, the Jewish holy book, and explained its significance. The Torah is the first five books of the Christian Bible. The synagogue has multiple Torah scrolls and also scrolls of other religious books, including those of prophets and rare scrolls of other writings.
A family of voracious learners, Kanawha Magistrate Traci Carper-Strickland made the walk with her husband, Charleston Fire Capt. Mark Strickland, and three sons, Will, Andrew and Michael.
“It’s something we feel our children need an understanding of,” she said. “There was a discussion about it and this isn’t an opportunity given all of the time, to sit and observe. It was a learning opportunity for all five of us.”
The boys asked several questions, all of which Urecki was happy to answer. When the rabbi needed help bringing the Torah to the altar — the large scroll requires more than one person move it because of its coverings — Andrew, 10, was invited up to help. The boy, a student at Sacred Heart, helped remove the crown and breastplate and place the scroll’s velvet covering out of the way.
Carper-Strickland said it was exciting and a memory that she’ll keep with her.
“It’s important that Christians — and I want my people at Sacred Heart to understand better the Jewish origins of our Catholic faith and the close relationship with the Jews and to dispel any reasons for anti-semitism,” Sadie said.
He said the documents that came as a result of the second Vatican counsel in the early 1960s made a “tremendous difference” in the relationships between Catholics and Jews. Sadie has studied theology but admits he’s still learning about the Jewish and Islamic faiths.
“I’m still growing in my understanding,” Sadie said. “I studied theology. I have a major degree in theology, but I have learned so much from the rabbi and from Judaism as I continue now to learn from Islam and but we’re much closer to Judaism. We have so much in common.”
Urecki attended Mass at Sacred Heart Sunday after Sunday School at B’Nai Jacob, he called it a “double blessing.” Outreach events, like Sunday’s walk, show the positive side of religion.
“These are the type of moments that show what religion is all about. Religion is about not only touching God but touching each other,” Urecki said. “These are the type of moments that really shine and express what the message of Jesus, the message of Moses, the message of Mohammed is all about.”
He said visiting other faiths is a different experience for him. He looks at what he’s learned from them. He said his encounters with Christians have made him a better Jew.
“When you see other people trying to touch God and you go in there with an open mind — that’s very beautiful,” Urecki said. “I grow. I connect with God again.
“I feel very comfortable in my faith and very strong in my faith,” he said. “When you can go to another faith and see other people who are just as deeply religious, and just as intent on reaching God and you can see that intensity I believe your life changes and you realize that the glory of God is not contained in just one realm.”
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at email@example.com or 304-348-4850.