Yesterday, on Oct. 28, 2015 to be exact, the Catholic Church worldwide celebrated the 50th anniversary of the solemn promulgation of Vatican II’s “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.”
Known as “Nostra Aetate” from the first words of its Latin text, the proclamation insisted the Catholic Church in a new and forthright fashion officially recognize with positive respect the existence and spiritual riches of several of the world’s major non-Christian faith traditions.
In the words of that document in particular, Judaism was formally acknowledged once again by the Council as the ancient and venerable root of our Christian faith, and Islam claimed as a religious partner in the taming of human evil and in civilizing the spirit of humanity.
When the document was formally promulgated in 1965 toward the end of the final fourth session of the Second Vatican Council, it was imperative for the Catholic Church Universal to condemn and renounce every form of anti-Semitism and to insist that the Jewish people, neither then or now, should ever be blamed for the death of Jesus.
The horror of the Holocaust/Sho’ah, like the smoke of the concentration camp ovens, still hung freshly over the cities of Europe, demanding unambiguous rejection and profound apology from Christian Catholics.
With remarkable prophetic insight, the moment was also right for recognition of the deep faith in the One God which lies at the very heart of Islam. Treasured memories of historic cooperation, as in 12th century Spain for example, needed to be reclaimed for the good of our contemporary global society.
Although many of the Middle Eastern bishops at the Council feared political reprisals for any hint of recognition for renewed Jewish presence in that troubled Middle East area of so many ancient civilizations, all the bishops knew that some solemn expression of sorrow for the terrible, evil actions of Nazism (and Catholic silence in its vicious presence) was imperative.
That also became an occasion for recognizing the positive action of God in all the major religious traditions of our world. It was an extraordinary moment of great grace for everyone.
Fifty years later, scattered and sometimes violent surges of anti-Semitism have again marred many cities across the globe, demanding a new level of mutual support and Christian witness to the truth of Israel’s enduring vocation before God (Rom 11:29).
Moreover, acts of terrorism by fringe groups falsely claiming an Islamic heritage have blackened the reputation of authentic devout Muslims around the world and in increasing numbers of American cities.
It is time once again to revisit and reclaim the teachings of the Council in regard to these ancient religious traditions cherished by many of our neighbors.
Next Tuesday evening, Nov. 3, 7 p.m., at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, under the auspices of Salzmann Library, it will be my privilege to offer some reflections on God’s great gift of Nostra Aetate to the church and to the larger world.
A Jewish and a Muslim voice have been invited to offer brief responses to my comments. In this fashion, the great religious dialogue of our time will again become a local experience and will offer to our neighbors a witness of mutual respect.
In some small fashion it will be once again an example of what the rabbis call “tikun ha’olam … the healing of the world.”