Jewish woman considering conversion feels at home in church

| March 14, 2012 | 1 Comment


Danielle Schwartzman was among more than 350 people who took part in the Rite of Election at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, Feb. 26. She has been participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults with a group at the Basilica, led by Paula Kaempffer.

Although Schwartzman may not be ready this year to make a commitment to conversion from Judaism to Catholicism, she shared her spiritual journey with Pat Norby, news editor with The Catholic Spirit.

The archdiocesan Worship Office reported that 250 catechumens [unbaptized] and 495 candidates [baptized] took part in the Rite of Election Feb. 26 at the Basilica and the Cathedral of St. Paul, in preparation for joining the faith during the Easter Vigil April 7.

When Danielle Schwartzman and her boyfriend, Fernando Nunez, began talking about the possibility of marriage and children, they both expressed a desire to incorporate their faith in their home.

“We want our children to have a strong faith background,” said Schwartzman, 27.  “Last year, we took a class on Judaism so he could learn about my background. So, this year, he asked if I wanted to take a class on Catholicism.”

A native of Argentina, Nunez had recently attended the Catholics Come Home meetings at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis to catch up on his own faith’s teachings, she said.

Schwartzman said she was open to learning about Catholicism — “not at all thinking in a hundred years that I would ever consider converting.”

She met with Paula Kaempffer, who directs the RCIA program at the Basilica, and began attending the classes for Nunez, because he did the same for her, she said.

Now, she is the one who pushes him to go to Mass on Sunday and is excited about getting to the RCIA?classes.

“He jokes that I am more of a Catholic than he is now,” she said.

“I started going to the classes on Tuesday night and just loved every moment of it. . . . That was the exciting part of my week,” said Schwartzman, who is busy from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week studying to become a veterinarian.

Importance of community

“I started learning and the more I learned, the more I really liked what the Catholic Church had to say and what I was experiencing,” she said.

“I felt very at home when I was in the church and very welcomed. From the moment I stepped in there I felt I was part of the community, even though I didn’t know anybody.”

Schwartzman said she sees similarities in Judaism and Christianity.

“In Judaism, the community is extremely important and we have something called ‘mitzvot,’ which are good deeds,” she said. “Doing stuff for people who are less fortunate than you is very strong in Judaism, as well. And we have another word for ‘almsgiving.’”

The Scripture readings are different but the messages are often quite the same, she added.

Catholicism has taught her about trying to live the way that Jesus lived, to do good acts, to help people that are less fortunate  and to love everybody.

“When I first started going to Mass and heard them talk about Jesus all the time, I was a little uncomfortable,” she said. “When I learned that Jesus wasn’t just a person — but God who came to us in human form — it made a lot of sense to me. It’s still the same God I’ve always learned about, it’s just that he came to us in a different form, now. It made it easier for me to grasp that.”

But Schwartzman hasn’t and won’t turn her back on the faith of her childhood and her family. She and Nunez regularly light candles and pray (called Shabbat) before dinner on Friday nights at her mother’s home.

They also plan to celebrate Passover during a Seder meal with her family and will attend the synagogue during major Jewish holidays.

It’s about the journey

Kaempffer said that one of the first things she tells people who inquire about the Catholic faith is that there is no pressure to convert and no one wants them to leave their previous experience outside.

“Your previous faith experience, no matter what it was, is a part of your formation as a human person and that comes with
you. Just as we have an experience of God you don’t have, you have an experience of God that we don’t have,” she said.

During her 26 years of working with RCIA, Kaempffer said she has learned that a person’s faith journey has nothing to do with her or the rest of the RCIA team.

“It has everything to do with God’s call in their life, so we need to get out of the way,” she said. “It’s about their faith journey. . . . we cannot interfere with God’s call in their journey. We can only be there and give them whatever support we can.”

Although Schwartzman’s family expressed some concerns about her interest in becoming Catholic, they have been understanding, while offering one piece of advice, she said.

“They all said if you are going to do something like this, it’s something you need to take a lot of time exploring,” she said. “My mom asked that I further delve into my own religion . . . as deeply as I’m discovering Catholicism before I make the decision.”

Schwartzman said that Judaism is a wonderful religion and that she has a deep respect for the faith and the people.

“I’m not running away from Judaism, I’m more running toward something that is more fulfilling for me. . . . It’s like a spiritual hole that hasn’t been filled until now,” she said.

“If I don’t end up joining the faith, . . . this whole journey has been good for my own spirituality and my relationship with God.”

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