The idea to begin a fellowship in Toronto associated with the AHC began in October 2010 at the AHC conference in St. Louis. What emerged after much prayer was The Fellowship of St. Joseph – Havurat Yosef HaTzaddik.
The first expression of our new havurah was teaching. In the fall and winter of 2010 – 2011, Mark began a 13 part PowerPoint series on the Jewish Background to the Mass and the ancient Jewish Wedding in the mass. Using the Scriptures, Jewish traditions, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Papal encyclicals and Vatican II documents, and the writings of the saints, those gathered in the parish hall at St. Timothy’s Church in Toronto listened as the rich symbolism and connections with the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith were unpacked and explained. Mark’s lively and interactive style kept the 75 people present asking for more.
In March 2011, we were invited to Ypsilanti, MI to present a shortened version at a local parish on a Sunday afternoon.
That summer, a barbeque was held at our home to begin planning the fellowship arm of the havurah. Eight people gathered, mostly Jewish Catholics, to plan and brainstorm – and of course, eat! The following month we gathered at another parish, appropriately named St. Joseph the Worker, to say the final novena to St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, our patron saint, on her feast day. The parish pastor, knowing we were coming, spoke about St. Edith in his homily and we were allowed to pray before the statue of St. Joseph, for whom our havurah is named. The group had grown and we enjoyed getting to know each other over coffee.
In October 2011, we were invited to do a whole day conference in Brighton, MI as the launch of a new outreach by St. Patrick’s Church. Mark gave three talks on the Jewish Background of the Mass while our good friend and the AHC chaplain, Fr. Ed Fride, spoke about the new English translation of the mass.
Back home, at Blessed Trinity Church, we began a 9 part PowerPoint repeat of the series with some changes and additions. The first part was in the fall of 2011 followed up in the winter of 2012 during Lent. This was so well received, we decided to combine the teaching and fellowship arms of the havurah into one monthly group. The first meeting, with the support and blessing of Blessed Trinity’s pastor, Msrg. Ambrose Sheehy, was scheduled for April 17th. Msgr. Sheehy is very excited about his parishioners understanding the Jewish roots to the mass.
During March break (similar to spring break in the US), we were again privileged to be in Michigan, our “home away from home”. We had an amazing evening with Heart to Heart – a women’s apostolate. That night the meeting was held at St Clare of Assisi Parish in Farmington Hills, MI and opened up to both men and women. During mass, the pastor spoke about Romans 11. The congregation, which included many people of Polish decent as well as several Jews, was moved to tears by his heart- felt words. Mark’s presentation following the refreshments, was to a packed church including several children and young people. Despite a tornado warning and heavy rainfall no one left until the last question had been answered.
Later that week we had a wonderful time with the Servants of God’s Love in Ann Arbor. Mark did a three part retreat over two days on the Bride and Bridegroom imagery in the Bible and in the mass.
Finally, April 17th arrived. The AHC newsletters and holy cards were eagerly taken by the 50 plus in attendance. Mark introduced the AHC and did a presentation on Jewish objects that people had asked about in the previous sessions, such as the tallit and kipah, and the parallels in the Catholic tradition. Our guest speaker was a young man, Jonathan Hilsden, who was born and raised in Israel, the son of a Canadian Pentecostal pastor. Jonathan shared his journey from being involved in his parents’ church in Jerusalem, to curiosity about and eventually entrance into the Catholic Church, one year previous at the Easter vigil in Toronto. An experienced media person, Jonathan works at Salt and Light TV – Canada’s Catholic TV station. Jonathan then led us in worship with his guitar, singing two beautiful Hebrew worship songs.
On May 15th we had the privilege of hearing Fr. Dominic Borg. Fr. Dominic, a native of Malta, is the Provincial Delegate of the Discalced Carmelites for Canada. He is a Bible scholar with much knowledge of Jewish literature including the Talmud. He gave an excellent talk on “The Sacrifice of the Mass – a Jewish Perspective.”
In June, we had a Movie and Popcorn evening! The wonderful film, “A Hand of Peace – Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust” was shown following an introduction by Mark. Over 120 people attended and truly appreciated the documentary that clearly dispels much of the myths and misinformation about Pius XII. We highly recommend this beautifully done film produced by Salt and Light Television.
We began our second full year at Blessed Trinity with much anticipation and excitement to see what the Lord would do. All of the teachings were done with PowerPoint presentations.
Because our meeting night fell on the actual day, in September Mark did a teaching on the Jewish fast day of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. Many people asked questions concerning modern Jewish practices and we discussed the Biblical passages relating to this most holy of days.
In October we had a teaching on the Mass of the Early Believers. It was truly amazing and encouraging to realize that our faith practices are not so very different from those early Christians; and that they have antecedents in Jewish liturgy and practice.
Advent was a great time to start a series on the Prophecies of the Messiah from the Old Testament with their fulfillment in the New. In November Mark did part one and continued in December. We also had a Hanukah party after the December meeting complete with tiny jelly donuts and the lighting of the menorah all fulfilled in Jesus as the Light of the World.
In January we presented the topic “The Catholic Church and Israel – Discussions on the Ongoing Relationship between the Vatican and the State of Israel.” The talk was very well received and many questions were raised and answered.
Our dear friend, Fr. Eric Rodrigues, MC to Cardinal Collins, came in February to unpack the Roman Canon for us. His topic was the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Liturgy. We were challenged to see the Mass in a new light and our participation in it as precious.
March brought many changes and challenges to our church. Our beloved Pope Benedict XVI stepped down, paving the way for the election of Pope Francis. We soon learned of his love for the Jewish people and his desire to visit Israel.
Lent also came in March and Mark began the Lenten portion of his series on Messianic Prophecies – The Suffering Servant Songs of Isaiah. In April he continued the series with a verse-by-verse discussion of Isaiah 53. This special chapter has been instrumental in bringing many Jewish people to faith in Jesus the Messiah.
Fr. Eric returned in May to tell us about his adventures in Rome while Cardinal Thomas Collins was busy attending the conclave. He spoke about meeting a very humble African cardinal. He also told us about his visit with the Sisters of Charity, Mother Theresa’s order, where Fr. Eric had the opportunity to see the sisters in action with some of the poorest of the poor.
Finally in June, we had our traditional movie and popcorn night. This year we showed the film of the musical play, “The Covenant”. Originally performed in Israel, this version was performed and filmed in Toronto several years ago. Created by ICEJ, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, the play depicts the history of Israel from the call of Abraham to the creation of the modern State of Israel. It beautifully includes the stories of David, Esther, Daniel and his companions, the ministry of Jesus, the persecution of the Jews throughout Europe and culminating in the holocaust and the creation of the State. The lovely, haunting music, beautiful costumes and well acted roles gave many their first introduction to the history of our people.
On the teaching side of our Havurah, Mark had the opportunity to speak at an Evangelical church group, Intercession for Israel. He did a three part series on the Jewish Wedding and its relationship to our faith. We have had several more invitations to bring these and other presentations in the fall.
With donations from our members, we were able to purchase a new projector to connect to the old laptop we use for the Power Points. This was such a blessing as not all places we are invited to have access to one.
For our third year, we decided to present several episodes of Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism series disbursed throughout the year. This beautiful and deeply insightful series presents our faith in a fresh new way and encourages us to view the Catholic faith from a new perspective. With each episode we brought a Jewish connection to the topic viewed. There was also time for discussion after each video.
In September of 2013, we showed the first DVD: “The Revelation of God Become Man”.
Because our October meeting fell on the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, we showed the video on “The Communion of Saints”. Of special interest is the fact that both St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross have Jewish family connections. Mark introduced the topic with a PowerPoint on the life and ministry of St. Teresa.
In November, our friend, Fr. Eric Rodrigues told us about his trip to India. While there he worked with the Sisters of Charity as a volunteer. A beautiful PowerPoint presentation helped us to see the experience more vividly. Fr. Eric also brought in the Marian aspect of the work of the sisters in a very meaningful way,
With the coming of December, we had the great privilege of hosting Peter Herbeck, from Catholic Renewal Ministries and co-host of “The Choices We Face” and “Crossing the Goal” television shows. His theme was “An Advent and Hanukkah Reflection” and he also spoke about the new Apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium”.
Following the Christmas break, in January, Fr. Dominic again brought us an insightful and interesting talk on “Saints in Scripture: Get to Know Who is in the Bible”
In February we showed another of Fr. Barron’s videos – The Beatitudes: “Happy are We: The Teachings of Jesus”
The March talk was a beautiful presentation of the life of St. Edith Stein, the Jewish Discalced Carmelite Nun who perished in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. This was a very personal topic for Mark as his father is a survivor of that particular camp. St. Edith Stein was also instrumental in Mark’s journey into the Catholic Church in 2009. Mark also presented this talk to his Discalced Carmelite community.
In April, following Holy Week, we presented the video in the Catholicism series on the Eucharist; “Word Made Flesh: True Bread of Heaven.” This is probably one of the best presentations on the Eucharist we have ever seen. Deeply moving and thought provoking, Fr. Barron shows us both the diversity and uniformity of the celebration of the mass throughout the world.
After an exceptionally long winter which included a Christmas ice storm, May finally brought us some warmer weather. At our group we had the great privilege of hosting Msgr. Robert Nusca, currently rector and president of St. Augustine’s Seminary here in Toronto. He spoke on “The Faces of Messiah in the Book of Revelation”. We were treated to an “unpacking” of the Book of Revelation that none of us will soon forget! The magnificent images on the PowerPoint presentation and the many quotes from ancient writers together with Msgr. Nusca’s passionate explanations were a feast for us all.
Mark has had many opportunities to speak in various churches and prayer groups throughout the year. There was a group at St. Pascal Baylon, and an Anglican home fellowship; a Sri Lankan Pentecostal Church as well as several meetings with Intercession for Israel, a monthly prayer gathering at a large Evangelical church in Toronto. We were also privileged to again be with our dear friends, The Servants of God’s Love in Ann Arbor, MI. It has been a year of many opportunities to speak about the Jewish Roots of the Faith in diverse places within the Body of Messiah. Upcoming talks include one on the Canadian (North American) Martyrs and one on Israel.
Our current fundraising project is to purchase a new laptop to go with our wonderful projector!
Another successful year will come to an end next month in June. We will be having a farewell evening with our beloved pastor, Msgr. Sheehy, who is moving into a well-deserved sabbatical year. He will be our guest speaker. Special music will be provided by Susan Hookong-Taylor.
We could not do any of this without the unconditional love and support of our pastor, Msgr. Ambrose Sheehy and he will be greatly missed by all. We also thank the staff of Blessed Trinity for their help in providing and setting up the refreshments for our meetings.
As always, we appreciate your prayers and input. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would love to hear from you.
May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you.
In Yeshua our Messiah and Miriam our mother,
Sue and Mark Neugebauer
Havurat Yosef HaTzaddik