By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When and why did you join St. Louis Byzantine Catholic Mission and how has the Byzantine Mission helped enhance your faith?
James: I was confirmed into the Byzantine Catholic Church on Easter in 2014 after growing up in a mix Christian household. My mother was charismatic, leaning towards Pentecostal; my father was a skeptical Non-Denominational Protestant; one of my grandfathers was a Greek Orthodox Immigrant, and the other was a Methodist minister. Both my parents served as medical missionaries with the Southern Baptist Mission. So needless to say there were a lot of influences that went into my decision to enter the Byzantine Church, but the short answer is that the worship in the Eastern tradition is beautiful and rational. This combination of worship, beauty and rationality has become a vital part of my faith life. I can’t imagine being a follower of Christ without the support of the Byzantine tradition. (I explain more about this in an interview with the St. Louis Catholic Magazine)
The St. Louis Byzantine Mission is a wonderful community. We are a close nit group of about 30 families. Thirty to forty of us will be present at our regular Liturgy on Saturday evenings. We have number of mostly bi-tradition priests who serve the community—meaning priests who serve both in the Roman and Byzantine Catholic Rites. This Byzantine community is a regular support
Gordon: You gave a powerful valedictory address at At Augustine College
What interested you in joining the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and what are your primary responsibilities?
James: I was doing my Masters in Theology and Religious Education, when I learned about the opportunity to intern with the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. I was drawn to the work because of my mix Christian background. I had seen God work through Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox. So I was excited by the prospect of a ministry that sought to bring these different groups into dialogue. The interreligious engagement was also a draw. My undergraduate and graduate degrees were deeply impacted by mentors from the Jewish and Muslim tradition. So this also attracted me to work with the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. I interned with the office for one year, and then I was hired as full time staff.
My duties now include outreach and resource creation for the office. So I manage our online outreach through our website, youtube, facebook and twitter. I also maintain a monthly eNewsletter. I help coordinate events like the Meeting Our Neighbors program, which invites Catholics and others into the worship space of another faith. Our next visit will be to the Congregation Temple Israel in June. I do parish and school workshops on the theology behind ecumenism and interreligious engagement. I am passionate about this work and blessed to be able to do it.
Gordon: When did you learn about the vandalized Jewish cemetery and what was the Archdiocese’s response?
James: " I learned about the vandalism the Monday after the incident. We very quickly connected with our partners at the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, who were planning a cleanup effort and vigil with the support of the governor of Missouri and other elected officials. Archbishop Carson of St. Louis clearly voiced his support for the Jewish community in this difficult time, and we located a member of our ecumenical commission to represent the Archdiocese at the vigil, which followed the cleanup. Deacon Carl Sommer represented us well and clearly rejected this vandalism as adverse to Catholic teach. We made a brief video of the cleanup and vigil to show the wonderful unity which came out of this crime.
Gordon: Could you comment on Bishop Mitchell Rozanski’s Statement on Antisemitism?
James: The line that most strikes me from the bishop’s statement follows a powerful quote from Pope Francis and reads, “Herein lies the danger, dehumanization.” Dehumanization, scapegoating and demonization have been the beginnings of terrible events in our human past. The US Bishops and Pope Francis have provided healthy examples of remembering “the stranger in our midst” and “loving our neighbors.” I pray we will follow these example.
Gordon: We have seen increased incidents of ant-Muslim and Antisemitism. What can parishes and do to help address this challenge?
James: The best thing a parish can do is to humanize their neighbors. Know their names and be able to say hello. We had a wonderful example of this in St. Louis recently. A mosque just opened near St. Dominic Savio Catholic parish. The pastor, Fr. Rothschild, took the initiative to call our office and ask, “How do I engage with this community?” We encouraged him to simply share hospitality—to meet with the imam as a fellow clergyman and voice his support. Fr. Rothschild went a step further and published a letter to his congregation about his meeting with the imam and arrange a visit and tour of the mosque. Suddenly, the strangers down the street became neighbors and hosts for Catholic guests. This simple hospitality and communal sharing can be initiated by a pastor or a lay person. In my experience, one person interested in bridging the gap between two communities can go a long way to prevent religious prejudice and what follows from it.
Gordon: Thank you for your time. insights, and advice into this growing national challenge.