‘Nostra Aetate’ at 50: The ‘Magna Carta’ of interreligious dialogue

In a historic interreligious meeting, Pope Francis is embraced by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka as he leaves after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last year. On the right is Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina. (CNS/Paul Haring)

In a historic interreligious meeting, Pope Francis is embraced by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka as he leaves after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last year. On the right is Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Junno Arocho Esteves    Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — Representatives of the world’s religions gathered in Rome to commemorate and reflect on the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with other religions.

Although it is the shortest of the Second Vatican Council’s documents, its influence continues to be felt in the life of the church today, said speakers at an anniversary conference Oct. 26-28 sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

Comboni Father Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the interreligious dialogue office, said that while much has been done since the document’s publication, there is still much more to do in advancing relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions.

“So many words have been said but there has also been much silence,” Father Ayuso said. “The path indicated by ‘Nostra Aetate’ is still of great relevance and, as it says in the declaration, still today we are exhorted to recognize, preserve and advance all the spiritual, moral and socio-cultural values found in religions.”

One of the fundamental achievements of “Nostra Aetate,” (“In Our Time”), was the church’s recognition of what is true and holy in other religions, said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the pontifical council. In the document, “for the first time, the magisterium recognized that holiness can be found also in other religions and that this can lead to a ‘ray of that truth that illuminates all mankind.'”

“It is interesting, 50 years later, to read this document and find that it has lost none of its relevance,” he said. “It has certainly inspired the members of the Catholic Church at different levels to promote relationships of respect and of dialogue with people of other religions, and continues to be a fixed point of reference for these relationships.”

Although promulgated by Blessed Paul VI on Oct. 28, 1965, the first draft of “Nostra Aetate” was commissioned by St. John XXIII under the direction of Cardinal Augustin Bea. The draft, originally entitled “Decretum de Iudaeis” (“Decree on the Jews”), “only addressed the issue of the responsibility of Christians” during the Holocaust, Cardinal Tauran said.

In the end, the final two articles of the document addressed the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Jewish people while the initial articles of the declaration highlight the church’s relations with other world religions.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, said the document’s discussion of Christianity’s relationship with Judaism was not only a starting point “but the hinge of the whole council declaration.”

“The fourth article of ‘Nostra Aetate’ should be considered the ‘Magna Carta’ of Judeo-Catholic dialogue,” he said. “For the first time in history, the ecumenical council expressed itself so explicitly and positively with regard to the relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism.”

The Swiss cardinal also noted that “Nostra Aetate” not only mentioned “practical and pragmatic prospects,” but placed the relationship between Catholicism and Judaism inside a “theological context” based on “solid biblical foundations.”

“Nostra Aetate” marked a decisive change in direction in relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism, Cardinal Koch said, and  it “shows itself as a useful compass toward reconciliation between Christians and Jews, valid both for the present and for the future.”

“The celebration of an important anniversary, therefore should not be a reason to look to the past, it should rather be a welcome opportunity to look to the future,” he said.

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