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Commmmorating Nostra Aetate, Chief Rabbi and Cardinal Call for Unity Against Persecution, Brutality

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

"Synagoga and Ecclesia in our time, by Joshua Koffman, 2015. Photo: Wikipedia.

“Synagoga and Ecclesia” in our time, by Joshua Koffman, 2015. Photo: Wikipedia.

Two prominent religious leaders, a Jew and a Catholic, marked the 50th commemoration of the formative Nostra Aetate proclamations, by calling on more faiths to form close working relationships to combat persecution of religious minorities and brutality.

“We pray that the normalization of Catholic-Jewish relations in recent decades will offer valuable lessons for others around the world consumed by religious and cultural hostilities,” wrote Roman Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in an op-ed for the British Telegraph. 

The two leaders noted with concern the rise in persecutions of religious minorities worldwide, such as ISIS’s beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Egypt or terrorizing attacks targeting Jews and Jewish sites in France, Belgium and Denmark.

The leaders said the Nostra Aetate — the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council,” passed by Pope Paul VI in 1965 —  was groundbreaking in that it ushered in an era of warm Jewish-Catholic relations that might have seemed absurd to previous generations. Today, they wrote, the two faiths have much in common, “a great respect for the tradition that stretches back thousands of years behind us, and a determination to ensure that that same tradition will stretch out long into the future.”

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Separately, Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, said that the Nostra Aetate was nothing less than a “miracle,” Religious News Service reported on Wednesday.

“Relations between Catholics and Jews on many levels are today better than ever before in history,” he said, according to the report. Lauder met privately with Pope Francis on Wednesday, as did members of the American Jewish Committee.

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter on Wednesday, Rabbi A. James Rudin, the AJC’s senior interreligious adviser, noted that the Nostra Aetate ended 2,000 years of “troubled relations, centuries filled with religious bigotry and hostile stereotypes.”

“Indeed, there have been more positive Christian-Jewish encounters since 1965 than there were in the first 20 centuries of Christianity,” wrote Rudin.

In a press release, AJC noted that the organization had been instrumental in bringing about the Nostra Aetate.

“Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who then was AJC’s Director of Interreligious Affairs, worked closely with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on memoranda regarding the Christian-Jewish relationship that were submitted to Cardinal Augustin Bea, who shepherded Nostra Aetate’s creation at the Vatican,” the statement read. “One of their papers, ‘On Improving Catholic-Jewish Relations,’ presented the basis for a way forward. Heschel and AJC continued to be deeply involved in the development of what would eventually emerge from the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council as Nostra Aetate.”

That is not to say that relations are free of all issues. Jewish groups have rallied against efforts to fully canonize Pope Pius XII, over the former pontiff’s questionable record during the Holocaust, and the Holy See angered Israel earlier this year by recognizing the “State of Palestine” on official documents.


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