A very important 40th anniversary was marked on Oct. 28 -- that of the Second Vatican Council's declaration "Nostra Aetate" ("In our time"), which dealt with the Catholic church's relations with Jews and other non-Christians.
The 1965 declaration said the church rejects nothing that is true and holy in non-Christian religions. It condemned anti-Semitism and affirmed the continuing validity of God's covenant with the Jewish people. It also said the church regards Muslims "with esteem" and called for all to forget past Christian-Muslim hostilities and to work for mutual understanding. Hinduism and Buddhism are mentioned as well.
It has been a privilege for me to take part in the National Dialogue between Christians and Jews since I returned from my graduate studies in the Holy Land in 1994.
"Nostra Aetate" revolutionized the Church's relations with Jews by repudiating the "deicide"' charge that blamed Jews as a people for Christ's death. Pope Benedict has said this anniversary "gives us abundant reason to express gratitude to Almighty God for the witness of all those who, despite a complex and often painful history, and especially after the tragic experience of the Shoah, which was inspired by a neo-pagan racist ideology, worked courageously to foster reconciliation and improved understanding between Christians and Jews."
Benedict expressed hope that Christians and Jews will offer "shared witness to the One God and His commandments, the sanctity of life, the promotion of human dignity, the rights of the family and the need to build a world of justice, reconciliation and peace for future generations."
As we look back over the past 40 years, we can be deeply grateful for the teaching and example of Pope John Paul II, who did more than any pontiff in history to improve relations with Jews. He was the first pope to visit a synagogue in some 2,000 years. He led the Vatican to diplomatic relations with Israel and prayed at Jerusalem's Western Wall in 2000.
John Paul truly embraced the wide vision of "Nostra Aetate." This past August, during his World Youth Day 2005 visit to Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI continued in his predecessors' footsteps by visiting the Cologne synagogue in his native Germany.
Jewish-Christians relations are never an academic exercise. They are, on the contrary, part of the very fabric of our religious commitments and our respective vocations as Christians and as Jews. "Nostra Aetate" was just the beginning of the beginning of the process of reconciliation and peace. Its profound message is as clear today as it was then: a firm "no" to any form of anti-Semitism and the condemnation of every offence, discrimination and persecution that derives from them.
If you are interested in learning more about the historic, developing relationship between Christians and Jews, I invite you to take part in a special 40th Anniversary Celebration of "Nostra Aetate" on Nov. 10 at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto. Some key international leaders in the Jewish-Christian dialogue will be featured at the all-day symposium, open to the public. For more information, please visit Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Toronto
or call (416) 598-4242.