Archdiocese Leader in Interfaith Dialogue in Rome to Mark 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
2 Jul 2015

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

The Declaration of the Relationship of the Church to non-Christian Religions known as Nostra Aetate handed down during the Second Vatican Council on 28 October 1965 led to the development of interfaith and interreligious dialogue.

Now on the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking document, Sister Giovanni Farquer RSJ, Executive Director of the Archdiocese of Sydney's Commission of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations is in Rome for a four-day Conference convened by the International Council of Christians and Jews to celebrate the Past, Present and Future of the Christian-Jewish Relationship.

Yesterday, His Holiness, Pope Francis addressed the Conference and said in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the world was able to see the rich fruits it had brought about. It was also an opportunity to express "our thanks to God for all the good which had been realised in terms of friendship and mutual understanding between Christians and Jews over the past half century," he said.

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

The Vatican II document represented a definitive "yes" to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable "no" to anti-Semitism, the Holy Father told delegates gathered in Rome for this important Conference and spoke of the ongoing development of an "authentic fraternal dialogue" made possible by Nostra Aetate.

"Our fragmented humanity, distrust and pride have been overcome thanks to the Spirit of Almighty God, in such a way that trust and fraternity between us have continued to grow," he said.

Pope Francis also expressed his pleasure that the International Council of Christians and Jews had chosen Rome as the venue for this year's conference.

"Rome is the city where the Apostles Peter and Paul are buried. For all Christians, both Apostles are an important point of reference: they are like the 'pillars' of the Church," he said. "Here in Rome, we also find the most ancient Jewish community in Western Europe whose origins can be traced back to the time of the Maccabees. Christians and Jews therefore have lived together in Rome for two thousand years, even though their relations in the course of history have not been without difficulty."

Archdiocesan Commission Members for Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations Selina Hasham, Lea Lo Mascolo with Director, Sr Giovanni Farquer

Pope Francis told those at the conference that with God's help "we are strangers no more, but friends, brothers and sisters."

Sr Giovanni says the attendance by the Holy Father at the Conference shows the importance and significance the Church places on interfaith dialogue and the building of strong interreligious relationships.

Although the conference was primarily a celebration and reflection on the ever-growing strength of the Christian-Jewish relationship, keynote speakers and many of the workshops during the crowded four-day program, considered the broader ecumenical impact of Nostra Aetate among the diverse branches of both Christianity and Judaism and also explored the "Role of Women in the Development and Implementation of Nostra Aetate."

The impact of Nostra Aetate on the "Wider Christian World" was discussed and at a Plenary Session, the Conference tackled "The Role Religions Should Play in a Conflicted World."

Pope Paul VI's Nostra Aetate from Vatican II a wonderful model for interfaith dialogue and respect

Today, 1 July which is the final day of the Conference, the Plenary Session focussed on "Covenant as a Continuing Conversation in the Future" while a workshop explored "Promise, Land, Hope: Promoting Constructive Conversation between Jews and Christians about the Israeli-Palestine Conflict."

"Nostra Aetate has astounding relevance to present times," says Sr Giovanni, pointing out that it is not confrontation that offers hope to resolve problems but rather the ability to meet and dialogue.

Of all the documents promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate was the shortest. No more than a remarkably polished five paragraphs, the Declaration laid down directions for all members of the Catholic Church about proper attitudes and conduct towards Jews and other religions, she explains, adding that not only was the document ground breaking at the time of its release, but continues to be a potential roadmap for "generating peace, justice and unity among the whole human family, a family united in origin, life's pilgrimage and final destiny."

The first section of the Declaration dealt with the unity of the human family and spiritual impulse of all people together. The second section gave a brief description of various religions including Hinduism and Buddhism concluding with a statement that the Catholic Church rejected nothing of what was true and holy in these religions.

The third section urged the positive treatment of Islam while the fourth substantive section dealt with Judaism and recalled the spiritual ties between Christians and Jews, affirming the ongoing  validity of the Covenant between God and the People of Israel. This section called for mutual understanding and unequivocally condemned anti-Semitism. The fifth and final section rejected discrimination in all its forms.

Poe Francis with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

"In the 50 years since it was issued by Vatican II, Nostra Aetate has lost none of its impact or relevance," Sr Giovanni says.

Describing herself as extremely privileged to have the opportunity of attending this week's conference in Rome, she says is particularly interested in the vision for the future and hopes this will emerge with some clear and precise statements regarding Interfaith Dialogue.

"I would like to see emphasis given not only to the responsibility of religious leaders to engage in dialogue, but also civic, corporate and community leaders. I would like to see these leaders urged to dialogue on the basis of our "common humanity" and the dignity of the human person which is universally relevant. To dialogue in this way is no longer an option if we are genuine in our efforts to achieve peace and justice in our world," she says.