CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Weigel, a Vatican observer and church scholar during the papacy of John Paul II, spoke at B'nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston Tuesday about the relationship between Judaism and the Catholic Church.
Weigel, who served as NBC's on-air commentator during this year's papal election and transition, said it is important for Catholics and members of the Jewish faith to foster an open dialogue to promote accurate perceptions about both religions.
"I'm amazed by two things in the 30 years I've been involved in intense conversation with Jewish friends," he said. "One is how little most Christians know about Judaism, despite the fact that we read the Old Testament -- the Hebrew bible -- and all the Scriptures and songs and other aspects of daily worship. I'm even more amazed sometimes at how little Jews know about Christianity."
Weigel is the author of "Witness to Hope," the bestselling biography of Pope John Paul II, and said his many interactions with the former pope taught him that the most formative time in his life was during the German occupation of Poland during World War II. John Paul II, then Karol Jozef Wojtyla, was forced to study in a clandestine underground seminary during the final years of the occupation.
"One of his seminary classmates from the underground seminary in Krakow told me, 'You have to understand it wasn't a question of whether you would be alive on your next birthday or the next New Year's or the next Christmas,'" Weigel said. "The question for five and a half years was, 'Will I be alive tomorrow?'"
Weigel talked about the relationship of the Catholic Church with other religions worldwide, and said he views the state of Israel as an ally to the U.S. in the Middle East and abroad.
"I think as an American citizen, what I am interested in, and why I have been and continue to be a friend of Israel, is because it is a democracy, and because it is a beacon of aspiration to democratic civility that is really quite remarkable given the pressures of other states since 1947," he said.
Rabbi Victor Urecki, who has served as rabbi for B'nai Jacob Synagogue since 1986, said Weigel's visit carried an important message for both Jews and Christians interested in gaining a greater understanding of their faith.