Rabbi Marc Gellman offered a passionate plea for interfaith unity at the Fordham Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education’s (GRE) Sapientia et Doctrina celebration on Oct. 20 at the McGinley Center Ballroom on the Rose Hill campus.
The second annual event, organized by GRE alumni, featured not only the keynote address by Rabbi Gellman, but the presentation of the Founders, Gaudium et Spes and Sapientia et Doctrina awards. In all, 17 people were honored at the dinner and celebration.
Rabbi Gellman was presented Gaudium et Spes Award and accepted it on behalf of his longtime colleague, Monsignor Thomas Hartman, who made up the other half of the so-called “God Squad.” The pair of religion experts have published multiple books, hosted a cable television show and appeared regularly on ABC’s Good Morning America, where they discussed the religious issues of the day.
Monsignor Hartman was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and was not able to attend the awards ceremony. Rabbi Gellman spoke of his relationship with Monsignor Hartman and how they bridged what at times were substantial religious and cultural gaps to become close friends.
Rabbi Gellman also discussed the historic Second Vatican Council document known as Nostra Aetate, which was passed in 1965 and laid the groundwork for building stronger relationships between Catholics and those of other faiths. It is known formally as the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.
“It didn’t eliminate—nor could it—the kind of ignorant bigotry that I faced in my faith and that you face in yours,” said Rabbi Gellman. “But what it did do, what it did for the modern world and for the modern church, is that it ended all possibility of a bigot standing up and preaching bigotry in the name of Christ. Without it, I could have never found, as my best friend, a priest.”
With a mix of humor and heartfelt emotion, Rabbi Gellman spoke fondly of his relationship with Monsignor Hartman, describing everything from how they met and began their media careers to how they have dealt with the monsignor’s illness.
Rabbi Gelman told the gathering that “God Squad” never charged a fee for an appearance or speaking engagement, never said no to a school or charity event and always worked to end disputes through their media mission.
“Changes happen when you are capable of having a best friend, not just an acquaintance, but an actual, certified best friend who isn’t your color, who isn’t your faith, who isn’t from your culture,” said Rabbi Gellman. “Until that can happen, nothing can change. And all of the documents of every Vatican council don’t mean a thing, because nothing changes.”
Rabbi Gellman also spoke of the need for people of all faiths to put aside their religious differences for the betterment of the world, such as he and Monsignor Hartman have done for so many years.
“You can either have me, and people like me, as your friend and your partner in the work of healing this world, or you can try to bring me to Christ,” said Rabbi Gellman. “You can’t have it both ways.”
He was not encouraging an end to the practice of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ or of proselytizing, he said, but was instead calling on the world’s community of faith to join together to reach out to those who do not believe.
“We have other agendas,” the rabbi said. “The world is broken and bleeding. And we need each other. Because one thing we learned in the 150 speeches we used to give every year is this: The difference that matters most is not the difference between Jews and Christians, and not the difference between Jews and Catholics …, the difference that matters most in the world now is the difference between people who believe something and between people who believe nothing at all. That is the difference that could kill this culture.”
The Founders Award is presented annually to those who played pivotal roles in the founding GRE.Gaudium et Spes is the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which challenges the church to immerse itself in the world and to embrace the concerns and needs of all humanity. The award is given to those who have upheld that engaged in that call within and outside of the church. And the Sapientia et Doctrina Award honors the work of people who have made outstanding contributions in areas ranging from parish ministry to pastoral counseling and social justice.