ROCHESTER — A Christian, a Jew and a Muslim respectfully shared their differences, but also emphasized their common threads before a public audience.
In other words, this was the perfect recipe for an event with Father Joseph Brennan’s name attached to it.
Approximately 150 people attended the first Brennan Memorial Interfaith Lecture on Sept. 30 at St. Mary Church. The forum was held to denote the first anniversary of the death of Father Brennan, who was a major force in Rochester’s interfaith movement.
Serving as keynote presenters were Father George Heyman, director of continuing education and assistant professor in Biblical studies at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry; Rabbi Alan Katz, senior rabbi of Temple Sinai; and Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, imam of the Islamic Center of Rochester and executive director of the Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College. Each speaker detailed how Abraham is connected to his own religious tradition.
Rabbi Katz noted that Abraham has always been regarded as the father of the Jewish faith. Speaking on Abraham’s personal traits, Rabbi Katz remarked that “like most of us, he is struggling with his identity, of what he believes.” The rabbi pointed out pivotal moments involving Abraham’s trust in God: His remarkable compliance with God’s initial command to sacrifice his son Isaac, but also — due to his concern over innocent people being harmed — his challenge of God’s plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Father Heyman observed that Abraham is referenced frequently in the New Testament; in fact, the Book of Matthew begins by tracing Jesus’ genealogy to Abraham. Other Gospel references noted by Father Heyman are in Luke 13, where Jesus calls a crippled woman a “daughter of Abraham”; Luke 16, where Jesus recounts how the poor man Lazarus was carried by angels to “the bosom of Abraham” upon his death and Abraham subsequently conversed with a rich man who has been cast to the netherworld; and Luke 19, where Jesus refers to Zacchaeus as “a descendant of Abraham.” Father Heyman also highlighted John 8, where Jesus intimates that his identity as the son of God would have been known to Abraham.
Meanwhile, Imam Shafiq said that Muslims concur with Jewish and Christian beliefs that Abraham agreed to sacrifice his son, yet Muslims believe this son was Ishmael and not Isaac. Imam Shafiq also pointed out a number of references to Abraham in the Quran.
All three speakers agreed that the term “Judeo-Christian” should clearly be supplanted by “Abrahamic tradition” so as to emphasize that Muslims, as well as Jews and Christians, consider Abraham a forefather of their faith.¬†Imam Shafiq referred to this as “the good terminology.”
The Sept. 30 gathering was cosponsored by St. Mary Parish; the Jewish Community Federation; the Brennan Goldman Institute for Catholic Jewish Understanding; and the Islamic Center. It was the first of what is planned to be an annual lecture event to honor the memory of Father Brennan, a longtime teacher and rector at the former St. Bernard’s Seminary who later served as director of religious affairs at the University of Rochester.
For much of his priesthood, Father Brennan strove to bring about greater understanding and respect between various faiths. His pioneering work led in 1996 to the Rochester Agreement between the Rochester Board of Rabbis and the Diocese of Rochester. He helped form the Commission on Jewish Relations and the Rochester Interfaith Forum, as well as other area interfaith groups. In 2006 he served as cofounder of the Brennan Goldman Institute at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. Father Brennan died Sept. 22, 2008, at age 79.
Joseph Kelly, professor emeritus of religious studies at Nazareth College, served as moderator of the Sept. 30 event and noted three special qualities Father Brennan brought to the process of interfaith dialogue: wisdom, integrity and joviality. On the last point, Kelly commented that Father Brennan’s “warm and human way of communicating put everyone else at ease.”