Mark Vighetti, 11, had never been to a synagogue before.
“It’s good to learn about different religions and churches,” the 11-year-old Boy Scout from Bethel Park said after his visit on Friday morning to Rodef Shalom on Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh.
A member of Troop 215, Mark was among about 325 cubs, scouts, leaders, parents and siblings who took part in an annual “Ten Commandments Hike.”
While many people were shopping or recovering from Thursday’s Thanksgiving feasts, the scout group walked about four miles, making stops at seven different places of worship in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. At each location they had a chance to hear a brief talk and ask questions about eight different faith traditions. Those who spoke represented Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and several branches of Christian belief.
Assistant Scoutmaster Kris Cummings, 21, said Friday’s event is linked directly to the 12th and final point of the Boy Scout Law. Scouts pledge before each of their meetings to be reverent, he said. Respecting and accepting religious differences is part of being reverent, he said.
Mr. Cummings, a senior at Robert Morris University, is a leader with Springdale Troop 504. He was among a dozen Order of the Arrow members who helped guide participants from place to place as they walked through Oakland.
The hike was sponsored by the Jewish Committee on Scouting, which is part of the Boy Scouts’ Laurel Highlands Council.
Event chairman C.W. Kreimer said the purpose of the hike was not to get people to agree on matters of religion. “But children raised in one faith should understand something about the beliefs of children in another faith,” he said. “That will help them to get along.”
In order to respect, and not just tolerate, the beliefs of others, people need to have some knowledge about their religions, he said. Mr. Kreimer, a retired software company owner, lives in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
One difference in beliefs was apparent on the cover of the event brochure given to hike participants: different faiths calculate time and calendars differently. What was Nov. 29, 2013, for Christians was 26 Kislev 5774, according to the Jewish calendar. For Muslims the year is 1435; for Hindus, 5115; and for Buddhists, 2557. The 12-page document also included information on major holidays celebrated by various faiths.
But there were also connections among the faiths. The lawgiver Moses was represented in stained glass windows both in Rodef Shalom and next door at Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church.
Monsignor Russell A. Duker, pastor of Holy Spirit, reminded the scouts about the importance of Moses and the Hebrew prophet Elijah to Jews and Christians. He called Judaism “the elder sister” of Christianity.
In addition to the stops at Rodef Shalom and Holy Spirit, the hikers visited St. Paul Cathedral, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, First Baptist Church, Heinz Chapel and First Church of Christ, Scientist.
Don Megahan, organist at Rodef Shalom, provided accompaniment for group singing at several of the stops. Among the songs performed were Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and George M. Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Boy.”
In addition to providing some ecumenical religious instruction and exercise, the hike offered an opportunity for some family bonding. “I’m getting to spend some time with my dad,” Cub Scout Stephen Doering, 9, said. He is a member of Cub Pack in Munhall.
Pierce Collins, 9, a Cub Scout from Pack 115 in Penn Hills was the only boy from his unit to take part in the hike this year.
He said he was impressed by the 250-foot tall bell tower at St. Paul Cathedral, the seat of the bishop for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. He said he would try to persuade some of his buddies to go on the walk next year.
“I saw some really neat places,” Pierce said during a lunch break in the basement of St. Paul Cathedral.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-0184.