A Journey Of Faith: A provacative and moving dialogue between two men of faith, two voices of conscience, about the most profound events and issues of our time, by Elie Wiesel and John Cardinal O’Connor
As someone who feels a high degree of ambivalence but also interest in the thinking and perspective of both Judaism and Catholicism, this book provided an opportunity for me to read an awkward interfaith discussion between two men considered of high importance within their particular faith traditions. This book is formatted in such a way that it demonstrates a fairly easygoing conversation between the two “authors” facilitated by a reporter at WNBC. Both come off in a relatively favorable light, but Wiesel is somewhat guarded, not enthusiastically pro-life (for whatever reason, Judaism has had a much more negative view of the culture of life than the biblical worldview would appear to justify), and rather keen on disclaiming any sort of role of himself as a religious leader, while O’Connor comes off as someone who claims to speak from his heart as a way of justifying his occasional shooting from the hip. Both come off, in other words, as human beings, gracious and friendly with each other but certainly not plaster saints.
Coming in at less than 100 pages, this is certainly not a long book, and its conversational tone makes it come off as more a fireside chat than a substantial work on faith. Nevertheless, the authors do wrestle with some serious subjects. They talk about the issue of interfaith communication and the need for mutual respect while also maintaining one’s own point of view, show themselves as friends who give each other the benefit of the doubt when it comes to interpretation. They wrestle with the violence of the Holocaust and O’Connor’s criticism of American militarism, and with the question of family. I would not have known, though, looking at this that O’Connor’s mother had been a Jew who converted shortly before marrying his father, which would have added an angle to the discussion of intermarriage, a subject of considerable interest within the Jewish community. Wiesel is particularly pointed when it comes to questions about Pope Pius XII, who O’Connor seeks gingerly to defend and about whom a case can be made that he was by no means Hitler’s pope as has been sometimes claimed. If neither of the two get to the bottom of the subjects of interest, there is certainly at least enjoyment to be found in reading the book.
And ultimately, a book like this should not be seen as a definitive work, but rather as an example of a chatty and somewhat informal conversation about serious issues between two people who are articulate and interesting. I would think, being a bit biased, that a similar work consisting of my own conversations would be of the same sort of interest to a reader, although this sort of book is not likely to be published unless the people involved are particularly famous. There are a great many more people who are capable of being worthy raconteurs of the sort that would make for an evening of worthwhile conversation than there are people who are willing to read such books, alas. If this book did not drastically change my opinion of either man, either the wary Holocaust survivor Wiesel or the pro-life advocate O’Connor, but it certainly gave me a good understanding of how they appeared in personal conversation that demonstrated both had a genuine concern for others, even if O’Connor, like many Catholic prelates, as come under some criticism relating to the clergy sex scandal of the past several decades.