NYC Church Discusses Tolerance and Discrimination

HNP Communications Around the Province

NEW YORK — Parishioners at St. Stephen of Hungary Church here are gathering at the 5:30 p.m. Mass to hear speakers discuss tolerance, inclusion and acceptance in a homily series called “Tolerance Sundays.”

In February, attendees listened to a widely-known New York City rabbi give a sermon on “Healing the Hurt of Anti-Semitism.” In December, an African-American member of the Sisters of the Atonement spoke on “Healing the Hurt of Racism.”

The idea for “Tolerance Sundays” arose, according to pastor Angelus Gambatese, OFM, because of both the issue of racism that was raised during the 2008  presidential campaign as well as observing last summer an increase in anti-Semitic remarks in New York City. 

“Our parish council decided to institute a series of reflections given by people representing groups that experience discrimination in our society,” he said.

Every six weeks, speakers are invited to the church on East 82nd Street. Upcoming topics include discrimination against the Islam religion, gay and lesbian people, those with disabilities, and sexism.  The next speaker will tell of his experience as an immigrant in the United States.

“Our first two ‘Tolerance Sundays’ have been well received by our community,” said Angelus. 

The homily at the Feb. 1  Mass was by Rabbi Sarah Reines, formerly of New York City’s Central Synagogue. In December, Sister Paul Teresa Hennessee, SA, of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement at Graymoor, N.Y., spoke on “Healing the Hurt of Racism.” Sister Paul Teresa has been a member of several ecumenical organizations, including the National Council of Churches, and is the co-editor of Ending Racism in the Church. 

The series hopes to help overcome the stigmas and biases associated with intolerance. With each topic, attendees are given an information sheet explaining the history of the Catholic Church’s response to the individual bias, such as the Church’s response to racism. Following Mass, they can discuss the issue at a reception for the speaker. 

A recent Sunday bulletin read: “Though we rejoice that the era of Church-sanctioned anti-Semitism is over, we also recognize that the harm caused by intolerance, which has been inflicted on us all, can run deep and take a long time to heal. Rabbi Reines will help us begin a discussion on how we can heal the wounds caused by anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Reines discussed how the Catholic Church fostered a spirit of anti-Semitism for 1,600 years, with the first laws against Jews being invoked under the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine. In the name of Christ, Jews were massacred during the Crusades, Inquisition and pogroms. 

She also discussed Pope John Paul II’s public apology in 2000 for the sins of the Church against Jews.

Reines is a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Committee of Interreligious Affairs, the Women of Rabbinic Network, and the Rabbinic Advisory Council for the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. She is currently on sabbatical continuing her studies. 

The date of the next Tolerance Sunday is set for March 29.