Jews, Catholics to Mark 50th Anniversary of Historic Nostra Aetate Proclamation at UN

December 7, 2015

3 min read

Jews and Catholics are coming together to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of the Nostra Aetate, a declaration released by the Catholic Church that many understand as countering centuries of anti-Semitic attitudes and understandings within the Church.

The International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations will the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate on December 16 at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The IJCIC is the representative of the international Jewish community to the Vatican.

Nostra Aetate, Latin for “in our time,” was published on October 28, 1965 under Pope Paul VI. The document coped with issues that were problematic between Jews and the Church and also those issues that prevented open and friendly relations between Catholicism and other religions, including Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims.

To some extent, the Nostra Aetate absolved the Jews of guilt for the killing of Jesus, referred to as Jewish deicide. It instructed that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God” and decried all displays of anti-Semitism. The fifth of the document part states that all men are created in God’s image and that it is contrary to the teaching of the Church to discriminate against, show hatred towards or harass any person or people on the basis of color, race, religion, or condition of life.

Christian theologians have stated that the Nostra Aetate does not just reflect a transformation in attitude and teaching towards the Jews, but has profound implications for the Church in terms of its own theology. The Nostra Aetate instilled changes in the Church that many people today, 50 years later, may take for granted.

“Nostra Aetate marked one of the most important events in Catholic-Jewish history and religious history more broadly,” explained Rabbi Joshua Stanton, Member of the Board of Governors of IJCIC, to Breaking Israel News. “The document, and the dialogue that preceded it, transformed Catholic-Jewish relations. It alleviated anti-Semitism globally and showed what is possible when religious communities clarify and improve their relations in a thoughtful, insightful way.”

On its 40th anniversary, Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jewry, described the impact of the declaration as “an astonishing transformation”.

“With the promulgation of this declaration, a people – formerly viewed at best as a fossil but more often as cursed and condemned to wander and suffer – was now officially portrayed as beloved by God and somehow very much still part of the Divine plan for humankind,” he explained.

Also on the Nostra Aetate’s 40th anniversary, the United States Congress passed a bill calling on the president to recognize the Nostra Aetate for its role in “fostering mutual interreligious respect and dialogue”, and for “combating anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance and religious discrimination worldwide”.

Martin L. Budd, Chair of IJCIC, said “in the last 50 years, the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people has transformed, as Pope Francis has said, from ‘enemies and strangers’ to ‘friends and brothers.’ This is certainly significant for Jews and Catholics, but is also a model of the potential for interreligious dialogue to resolve and overcome ancient and seemingly intractable hatred.”

Building upon Budd’s sentiments, Stanton told Breaking Israel News that the idea calling for open dialogue between religions as founded in the Nostra Aetate can only serve to further relations between Jews and Catholics for years to come.

“An open question is how we can build upon positive Catholic-Jewish relations and use it as a model for dialogue and collaborative action with other religious communities,” he told Breaking Israel News. “Reflection and action stemming from this question could provide the basis for continued deepening of Catholic-Jewish relations and serve as a common purpose for the next 50 years of dialogue.”

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, will offer a special message at the ceremony. Keynote speakers will include Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, philosopher Bernard Henry Levy, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Center, and Brian Corbin, a Senior Vice President at Catholic Charities USA.

Attendance at the conference is free, but those without UN identification must pre-register on the website in order to obtain an event pass to enter the UN.

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