Members of the Rochester-area Jewish-Catholic mission found their trip to Rome both enlightening and heartening, as indicated by the comments they made after returning home.
For some, including Seth Borg and Father Joseph Brennan, the journey had deeply personal moments. On Nov. 12, Borg sat in Rome’s Grand Synagogue during a Sabbath service and realized that the Torah readings he was hearing were the same ones read at his bar mitzvah exactly 50 years before.
Later that day, Father Brennan chose Borg to give the first reading at a Mass celebrating the priest’s 50th anniversary of ordination.
"The symmetry was perfect," Borg said. "And was a perfect culminating event for the trip we took together."
Father Brennan celebrated his Mass in the chapel of Mater Admirabilis, where he had presided at his first Mass 50 years ago.
"(T)o have so many Jewish and Catholic friends there made it very special," Father Brennan said. "After all, Mary was Jewish, and so was her son!"
The highlight of the trip for B.J. Yudelson, chairwoman of the community-relations committee of the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Rochester, was meeting on the same day with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and Oded Ben Hur, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See.
"I especially liked the cardinal’s image of (Christians and Jews) going shoulder to shoulder, based on our shared values, to improve the world," she said.
Joan Pearson, a Pittsford Catholic who traveled to Israel in 1998 on a similar Jewish-Catholic mission from the Rochester area, said she was impressed by the way members of the Rome mission focused on their respective faiths’ similarities rather than on their differences.
"We never approached each other from the position that we are right and you are wrong," she said. "Instead, we try to learn from one another, to have a better understanding about each other’s tradition."
Father Daniel Tormey, senior priest at St. Mary’s Church in Canandaigua, also participated in the 1998 Israel trip. He noted that in Rome he enjoyed the general audience mission members attended with Pope Benedict XVI. He said that he had attended audiences with other popes, but particularly enjoyed this one.
"(I)t was so much fun to see our Jewish friends enjoying themselves in this unique scene," he said.
Father Brennan may have expressed the sentiments of everyone on the mission when he summed up his feelings.
"I consider this whole trip to have been a very special grace from God, certainly for me, and, I hope, for others," he said.