Archbishop & Chief Rabbi to Lead 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Nostra Aetate

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
1 Oct 2015

The world's bishops gather in St Peter's Basilica for the start of Vatican II in 1962

The Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP and Chief Minister of the Great Synagogue Sydney, Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton will be keynote speakers at an all day and evening event to mark the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's ground-breaking Nostra Aetate - "in our time" - and to discuss the past, present and future of the Christian-Jewish relationship.

On 28 October, exactly half a century after the Second Vatican Council handed down the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to non-Christian Religions, known as Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Executive Council of Jewry, the NSW Board of Deputies, the Australian Catholic University and the Sydney Jewish Museum will host this landmark event which will be held at the Great Synagogue on Castlereagh Street.

Catholic theologians, Jewish scholars, Jewish and Christian university and senior school students together with members of university faculties, staff from schools across the city, as well as members of other denominations and other faiths will be among attendees at this important symposium.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP

In addition to the two outstanding keynote speakers who will deliver their addresses at the evening session which will begin at 7 pm, there will also be presentations by leading national and international Jewish and Christian academics throughout the day. They will offer new insights and enlarge on what has happened in the past and the challenges faced by these two Abrahamic religions both now and into the future.

But above all the event will celebrate Nostra Aetate which helped open up interreligious and interfaith dialogue not only between those of the Jewish and Christian faiths, but over the years has helped foster better understanding, tolerance and communication with other faiths as well.

"Nostra Aetate has astounding relevance to today's world and will continue to be relevant 50 years from now," says Sister Giovanni Farquer, RSJ, Executive Director of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Commission of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.

As the world grapples with bloody and brutal conflicts not only in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and the war waged against civilians by Boko Haram Islamic militant extremists in West Africa, there is a desperate need to find solutions.

"It is not confrontation and firepower that can resolve problems and offer hope but rather the ability to meet and dialogue," says Sr Giovanni who describes Nostra Aetate as "ground breaking in its potential for generating peace, justice and unity amongst the entire human family, a family united in origin, life's pilgrimage and final destiny."

Renowned scholar, Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, Chief Minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney

One of the driving forces behind the landmark symposium on Nostra Aetate Sr Giovanni says is to fully understand and appreciate the far reaching power and potential of the document handed down by the Second Vatican Council on 28 October 1965 -  and to understand the context out of which it was created.

"Two historic world events offer a shorthand definition of that context - the watershed of two world wars, Hiroshima and Auschwitz, both of which propelled the urgency of the deliberations of the Council Fathers," she explains.

Convened by Pope John XXIII, who was canonised last year, the Second Vatican Council opened on 11 October 1962. This was a time when the Cold War was at its height and the threat of nuclear annihilation was palpable. It was also the that the world was realising the full extent of the Jewish Nazi genocide. The trial of Adolf Eichmann had just taken place and the Diary of a Young Girl by author Anne Frank had become a publishing and movie phenomenon.

Prior to start of Vatican II, Pope John XXIII met with Jules Isaac, a Jewish scholar and historian, who presented him with a lengthy document summarising the legacy of Catholic discrimination towards the Jewish people and urged the Pope to use the Council to move beyond this "sad period."

Sr Giovanni Farquer RSJ Executive Director of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Commission of Ecumenism and Inter Religious Relations

The Pope asked Cardinal Augustin Bea to meet with Isaac, and three months later commissioned the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity to include the Jewish Question in its preparations for Vatican II. The Cardinal and 39 members of the Secretariat held vigorous and relentless debates over the Declaration that would become known as Nostra Aetate.

With drafts and re drafts, more debate and more argument, in 1965 two years after the death of St John XXIII and with Pope Paul VI now in charge of Vatican II, the Declaration known as Nostra Aetate was accepted by Council Fathers.

Of all the documents promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate was the shortest, says Sr Giovanni describing it as a "remarkably polished five paragraph Declaration."

The five paragraphs consisted of a statement on the unity of the human family and the innate spiritual impulse of all people followed by a brief description of various religions concluding with the statement that the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.

The third paragraph dealt with the positive treatment of Islam and the fourth was a substantive section on Judaism recalling for the spiritual ties between Christians and Jews, affirming the ongoing validity of the Convenant between God and the People of Israel. This paragraph also called for mutual understanding and condemned anti-Semitism unequivocally and finally.

The final paragraph of Nostra Aetate rejects discrimination in all its forms.

Nostra Aetate laid the foundation for dialogue respect and understanding of people of all faiths

On 28 October in addition to the powerful keynote addresses by Archbishop Fisher and Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, both held in high regard internationally as outstanding scholars, there will be presentations by Dr Julie Kalman, an expert on the Jewish population in France in the 19th Century and Director of International Studies at Monash University, Victoria; Dr Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer, Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Researcher at the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry at ACU Melbourne; Dr Avril Alba, Lecturer in Holocaust Studies and Jewish Civilisation at the University of Sydney; Dr Kee-Fook (Edmund) Chia, former Executive Secretary of Interreligious Dialogue for the Asian Bishops Conferences and currently Associate Professor and Chair of the Doctrinal Studies Department at ACU, Melbourne; Dr Dermot Nestor, Executive Dean of Theology and Philosophy at ACU, Strathfield who has a special interest in the study of the Old Testament and early Judaism.

In addition a presentation will be given by America's internationally renowned writer, lecturer and expert on interreligious affairs, Dr Judith Herschcopf Banki who wrote "The Image of the Jews in Catholic Teaching," a book that explored the memorandum that helped pave the way for the historic declaration, Nostra Aetate.

The powerful Declaration, Nostra Aetate can be downloaded from

To register for this landmark event on 28 October at the Great Synagogue on Castlereagh St email Inquiries about the symposium can be made to