In the past few weeks two important interfaith gatherings have taken place here in the Diocese of Camden. On June 8, Bishop Dennis Sullivan was awarded the Father Thom Schiavo Brotherhood Award at Beth El Synagogue in Margate. The event was a true interfaith and ecumenical gathering.
A large contingent of the color guard from the Knights of Columbus escorted Bishop Sullivan and Rabbi Aaron Krauss up to the bema of the synagogue while a combined choir from Beth El, Holy Spirit High School and Holy Trinity Parish led the gathering in the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” A Jewish prayer service proceeded with readers from the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant communities leading prayer and singing together throughout the service.
Sen. James Whelan presented the award to Bishop Sullivan. The presentation was followed by remarks from Rabbi Krauss, Protestant Bishop Wondel Johnson and Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, chairman of Bridges of Faith and leader of the Muslim mosque in Atlantic City.
Bishop Sullivan was recognized for his many efforts to promote both ecumenical and interfaith harmony in Southern New Jersey. All were enthusiastic in their praise of Bishop Sullivan’s efforts in the field of community and interreligious harmony and pledged to continue this good work among all our communities of faith.
Bishop Sullivan in his remarks thanked Rabbi Aaron Krauss for all his efforts as a community organizer, interfaith leader and true friend of the Catholic community for many years here in South Jersey. He said to Rabbi Krauss, “You are esteemed and respected by the Catholic community and I am proud to be able to call you a friend.”
He also shared, “Since coming to the Diocese of Camden I have had numerous opportunities to join the Jewish community here in Southern New Jersey. I received a warm welcome at the Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, have spoken in several synagogues, participated in a symposium that brought rabbis and priests together for a scholarly presentation on the Second Vatican Council document that initiated our Church’s outreach to the Jewish community, Nostra Aetate on its 50th anniversary and have happily attended the giving of awards in memory of one of our priests, Father Thom Schiavo, in this very synagogue.”
Father Thom Schiavo was a young assistant pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in the 1980s in Margate, where he struck a close relationship with Rabbi Krauss that initiated a joint study session between the parish and synagogue in Margate. He shared a Jewish heritage, as his grandmother was Jewish. He died tragically at a young age, but his memory and contributions to interfaith learning and good ties live on through the annual award ceremony held in his memory at Beth El Synagogue.
Another interfaith gathering took place last week with local Muslims.
Muslims throughout the world are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. This year, Ramadan will begin on the evening of July 8 and end in the evening of Aug. 7. During Ramadan, more than 1.8 billion Muslims around the world observe one of the Five Pillars of Islam — fasting.
Muslims celebrate their belief that during the month of Ramadan the Prophet Muhammad received from the Angel Gabriel the first verses of the Qur’an. The focus of the month is not only to fast from sunrise to sun setting but to also reconcile troubled relationships, give charity, find forgiveness for others and focus on how to live better lives in accord with God’s plan.
One of the traditions associated with Ramadan is the Iftar dinner celebrated at sundown to break the fast of the day. Non-Muslims are sometimes invited as a gesture of interfaith outreach to join in one of these Iftar dinners. I was invited along with Ms. Pat Sandrow, coordinator of ecumenical and interreligious affairs, and Henry Laigaie, one of our seminarians assigned to my parish this summer and a second Theologian at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, to an Iftar dinner at the home of Dr. Alican Dalkilic’s home in Cherry Hill.
The Iftar began with the traditional eating of a date with a glass of water to break the fast at sundown. We proceeded to have a delicious multicourse dinner enhanced by explanations from our hosts about the spirituality of Ramadan, as we Catholics and Jews present shared many of the similarities with some of our religious traditions. The gathering was enlightening and moving on many levels.
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.