In Our Time

Golden anniversaries are occasions for great celebrations, honoring the life and spirit it takes to make it to the fifty year mark. Anniversaries ask us to celebrate what has been, but also to look forward to the new and exciting things that are not yet. 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Nostra Aetate clearly outlines the vision of the Council Fathers for building lasting intentional, mutual relationships with people of various faith traditions.  The Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops along with the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America are working together to commemorate this pivotal occasion in the life of the Church with a three day conference, “Nostra Aetate: Celebrating Fifty Years of Dialogue with Jews and Muslims”. In our time, scholars and religious leaders from three monotheistic traditions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—are able to come together to rejoice in the fruits borne of interreligious dialogue.

Nostra Aetate calls upon the Catholic faithful to strive beyond mere toleration of the religious other, toward honoring the human dignity of the other through encounter, mutuality, and friendship. In our time, Catholics are able to live more deeply into their faith commitments by sharing with and learning from the diverse nature of the human family.

This celebration is important not only because we need to take the time to reflect and recognize the great strides in friendship that have been made through dialogue, but also to think critically about the future of interreligious dialogue and the fruits it bears. In our time, the diversity of voices critically engaged with the religious other can be heard and respected.

While the strides the Catholic Church has made over the past 50 years to nurture friendship and mutuality among practitioners of differing religious traditions has enabled dialogue to flourish, the work is not finished. Interreligious Dialogue is a process. It is not always easy, but it is on the journey from stranger to friend that the fruits of dialogue and encounter shine forth. Nostra Aetate is the tool that allows faithful Catholics to engage the religious other with love, without fear. In our time, it takes courage and strength to speak out against religious persecution, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue, will give the opening night keynote lecture, “The Catholic Church in Dialogue with Islam Since the Promulgation of Nostra Aetate.” Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York will give keynote lectures about the Church’s relationship with Jewish people, both internationally and nationally. Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, and Rabbi Noam Marans as respondents to the keynote addresses, respectively. In our time, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders and theologians are able to listen to one another and respond with thoughtful insights and critiques.

As the years go by, and we are ever farther away from the Council, and can sometimes lose the momentum of the Spirit ripping through the Second Vatican Council, we must look back in order to direct the course for the future.  Notably Fr. Thomas Stransky, CSP, who was present during the crafting of Nostra Aetate at the Second Vatican Council, will be giving a presentation about his experience, “From One Who Was There: The Crafting of Nostra Aetate.” This testimony of the creation of Nostra Aetate is invaluable for the those just beginning their engagement with interreligious dialogue, as well as the seasoned dialogue veteran. In our time, we must remember our past while looking to the future.

Currently, Pope Francis is the leading voice for an increased “culture of encounter.” Introduced to the world by Cardinal Tauran in March of 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis not only cared deeply for the poor, but he also engaged in (what we would now label) dialogue with the religious other. In our time, Pope Francis embodies the spirit of St. Francis and is able embrace a Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam at the Western Wall.

With the same spirit of friendship and encounter the Council Fathers espoused, you are invited to join the celebration of the golden anniversary of Nostra Aetate. If you are not able to make it to Washington, DC for the conference, please follow along via social media. Twitter @USCCBLive and hashtags #NostraAetate #InOurTime. In our time, the entire world is able to celebrate, engage, and dialogue in ways unprecedented in history.

Translated from the Latin, Nostra Aetate means “In Our Time”. How apt is that for a title concerning the relationships among followers of various religious traditions in an ever growing globalized community? Though Nostra Aetate was written in the 1960’s, the importance of the declaration is just as important today as it was then, even possibly more so.  In our time, the Church recognizes the inherent dignity, beauty, and truth in faith traditions the world around, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions.” (NA 2).

Julia McStravog, a recent CTU alum, is a  Program & Research Specialist with Secretariat of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Julia McStravog, a recent CTU alum, is a Program & Research Specialist with the Secretariat of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


Abraham’s Children: The Journey Makes Us One

Text and Photos by: Erin Hempstead

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From January 19th through January 31st a group of CTU students, professors, staff, and additional travelers formed a unique group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish participants to make up the Abraham’s Children trip to Israel and Palestine. Together, we explored important holy sites in the Islamic, Jewish and Christian traditions, witnessed many people and groups involved in intra and interfaith dialogue, heard voices of those affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and experienced a small taste of the complexity, and richness of the culture, religions and history of this ancient land. The trip made visible the many walls and borders that separate us as people, as well as the potential for transformation when we have the opportunity to cross borders and enter into authentic relationship with the other. We not only observed these bridges being built through dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, but also experienced this dialogue first hand through the relationships formed amidst our group. By participating in this trip we formed rich friendships across many borders and became one through the journey we made together. Below are a few photos from our time together.

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Visiting the Western Wall, the holiest site of Judaism, provided us the opportunity to connect and pray with millions of others who have touched the remains of the 2nd Temple’s retaining wall, leaving notes and prayers to God. Throughout the trip we had the chance to touch concrete symbols of each faith’s tradition. Due to the importance of these places to so many people all over the world, however, they are also fraught with tension. We learned that at the Western Wall, for example, an area for prayer once shared by men and women, is now separated by gender. An organization called Women of the Wall, led by Jewish women from around the world, works for women to have the right to wear prayer shawls and read the Torah aloud at the wall in the same way that men are allowed. They engage in action for a pluralistic, integrated section of the wall.

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The Souk, open-air market in Jerusalem

Each day while in the Old City of Jerusalem we walked through the bustling streets and open-air markets, exploding with smells, colors and goods for sale. Meandering through the souk in the Muslim Quarter was a sensory overload entailing delicious freshly pressed pomegranate juice, the chance to eat local dates, and bargaining for items for sale.


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The al-Haram al-Sharif is one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem and is an important holy place for all of the Abrahamic traditions. Below the dome lies the rock where tradition holds that Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son. Also, from this rock, during his midnight journey, the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also ascended into heaven. We had the privilege to tour the al-Haram al-Sharif with Professor Mustafa Abu Sway, a professor of Islamic philosophy from al-Quds University in East Jerusalem.

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Professor Inam Haq praying at Islamic Sufi mystic, Rabia of Basra’s tomb in East Jerusalem

We visited the tomb of Rabia of Basra, an 8th century, female, Mesopotamian, Islamic Sufi mystic whose life, poetry, and writing continue to inspire many centuries later. Despite being sold into slavery as a young woman, a life, which included physical and sexual abuse, Rabia became a spiritual leader and mystic poet with a deep spiritual connection with God. Her tomb celebrates the gift of her life and the timeless, transcendent works of this strong female spiritual leader.

“When God said, “My hands are yours,
I saw that I could heal any creature in this world;
I saw that the divine beauty in each heart
Is the root of all time and space.” – Rabia of Basra

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Holocaust Memorial Sculpture at Yad Vashem

“And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 56:5

Yad Vashem, a Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, seeks to preserve the names and voices of the millions of victims of the Shoah. Visiting Yad Vashem in Israel is a unique and powerful experience in a place so deeply affected by the horrors, loss and memories of this atrocity. After visiting Yad Vashem, we also had the opportunity to celebrate a Shabbat service at a reform synagogue and afterwards, rabbinical students celebrated a Shabbat dinner with us, leading us in singing and prayer.

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Olive tree at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem

Gethsemane contains a grove of olive trees, whose roots likely date back hundreds, if not thousands of years, due to the fact that olive tree roots are extremely resilient and difficult to kill. Their soil is broken and rocky, but they are strong and durable, continuing to give off fruit and new life. The interplay of brokenness and new life in the image of the olive tree, its roots and soil, provided a powerful symbol of the Passion and resurrection of Jesus.

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Separation Barrier

The Israeli- Palestinian conflict was a focus of our trip and the wall a poignant image of the deep and concrete divisions between the Israeli and Palestinian people. The massive concrete wall in the photo above is a section of the separation barrier built by Israel starting in 2002. The wall, planned to extend 430 miles at its completion, does not run along any internationally recognized borders, but rather much of it is built on occupied land. In 2004, the UN International Court of Justice declared that the wall was illegal, but its construction continues. In order to cross the wall to gain access to their land, work, religious sites and healthcare, Palestinians must obtain permits from the Israeli government and pass through checkpoints. The wall also surrounds certain communities, completely isolating them and destroying the social fabric of Palestinian life.

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Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory

The growing number of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank makes coming to a peace agreement increasingly difficult as the situation on the ground constantly changes even in the midst of peace negotiations. The settlements violate international law and further occupy the land and resources of the Palestinian people.

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Students from Bethlehem University with CTU students

Students from Bethlehem University spoke to us about their lives, studies, and challenges of living in occupied territory in the West Bank. Bethlehem University, the first University established in the West Bank in 1973, developed as a result of Palestinians expressing their desire to study in their homeland. Today, despite 12 closures due to military orders, the university still provides education to thousands of Palestinians, the majority of whom are Muslim women. Nonetheless, access to quality education for the majority of Palestinians remains an enormous challenge. According to the Israeli non-profit, Ir Amim, in occupied East Jerusalem 84% of Palestinian children live below the national poverty line and of those with access to education, 40% will drop out by 12th grade.

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Palestinian women at the Mahmoud Darwish Museum, Ramallah, Palestine

Mahmoud Darwish, an internationally acclaimed Palestinian poet of the 20th century used his poetry to express the beauty and challenge of the Palestinian people and their struggle.

“We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
On this earth, Lady of Earth,
Mother of all beginnings and ends.
She was called Palestine.
Her name later became Palestine.
My Lady, because you are my Lady, I deserve life.”
– Mahmoud Darwish

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Youth Circus Makom Ba-galil Galilee, Israel

In Galilee we visited a small town called Karmiel, where the Galilee Foundation for Value Education provides opportunities for Arab and Israeli youth to form relationships of trust and build community together through the arts, including a youth circus. Since circus routines require trust and non-verbal communication, it’s an opportune method for youth to work together. Youth between the ages of 7 and 17 performed for us, and without a doubt, our time with these young people was a highlight of the trip. Their joy, energy and performance put a smile on everyone’s faces and instilled hope for the future in our hearts.

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Rainbow over the town of Bethlehem in the West Bank

While in Jerusalem and Bethlehem we heard many people tell stories of suffering and loss as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An Israeli man named Rami from a group called the parents circle, which works to unite Palestinians and Israelis to heal from their common experience of suffering, shared about his 14 year-old daughter who was killed by a suicide bomber. By his side sat a Palestinian woman named Aesha who shared the story of her brother, shot in the heart by an Israeli soldier who later died as a result of the complications. In Bethlehem, Fr. Marwan, a Palestinian Franciscan priest, recounted the murder of his brother, shot and killed by fellow Palestinians while driving from Jerusalem to Bethlehem because he was mistaken for an Israeli. Students at the University of Bethlehem expressed their pain and frustrations of trying to live life in the occupied West Bank, where basic freedoms and human rights elude them, and where they remain separated by a concrete wall and checkpoints. The challenges of working for peaceful resolution and reconciliation amidst this conflict are enormous, but none of the voices we heard would give up all hope. One morning from my bedroom window in Bethlehem, after spending a somewhat sleepless night wrestling with the many stories of pain and loss we heard, I woke up and saw a rainbow stretching over the whole town. The rainbow in the blue sky, rising above the dark clouds, was a message from God for me to bring back home, that even amidst darkness, brokenness and violence, beauty and hope can rise above.
Peace, shalom, salaam.

Can we be a Chanting Church Again?

By: Bradley Vanden Branden

Having been involved in various types of music ministry for over ten years, it was only recently that I fell in love with the treasure of the Church’s chant tradition. For me, the proper and ordinary chants of the Roman rite add something inherently beautiful to any Eucharistic celebration. Whenever I hear or sing these chants, I cannot help but feel instantly connected to the men and women who have worked hard to compose and promote these pearls of our liturgical tradition. No doubt anyone who has read or studied the Second Vatican Council’s document, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, has noticed the Council Fathers’ teachings on chant: “[t]he Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC 116). This single article has given both liturgists and church musicians much to debate. In this short piece, I hope to outline a few reasons why to study and use chant, and suggest some resources that may help introduce chant into our liturgies in a more seamless way.


After a few years of pondering for myself this debate on liturgical music, I have found two sources that have been helpful in forming my own opinions regarding the value of Gregorian chant in the Roman rite. One is the document on sacred music from the bishops of the United States titled “Sing to the Lord” (STL). The other is a blog post written by the popular traditionalist blogger, Mr. Jeffrey Tucker, on his blog The Chant Café. The blog-post is titled “Why we must Chant.” I appreciate these two compositions for two reasons. First, STL suggests that Gregorian chant in the liturgy points to a living connection to tradition and, at the same time, it encourages contemporary Catholics to participate in this tradition. Second, Jeffrey Tucker’s piece points to the notion of Gregorian chant as a means to promote inter-religious dialogue. This latter contribution to the debate was something I had never considered. However, I find that his position may be helpful in the future especially as religious discrimination between Christians and Muslims continues to grow.

Chant as a Living Connection

In 2007 the bishops of the United States  approved the release of the document “Sing to the Lord.” This work provided music ministers across the country with guidelines to enhance liturgical music in their parishes. Among the many aspects of music ministry discussed in the document, the bishops make special note of Gregorian chant, echoing the directive from SC. In addition, the bishops add:

“Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church’s own music. Chant is a living connection with our forebears in the faith, the traditional music of the Roman rite, a sign of communion with the universal Church, a bond of unity across cultures, a means for diverse communities to participate together in song, and a summons to contemplative participation in the Liturgy.” (STL 72)

One can easily see that the bishops encourage the use of chant within the liturgical action. As a matter of fact, the bishops even suggest that every Catholic should, at minimum, be able to “learn [the] Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII” (STL 75).

As “pro-chant” as this document may sound, the larger context of these guidelines are actually more balanced. As Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. comments, one should recognize that STL presents liturgical musicians with both “encouragement and necessary caution”[1] when it comes to using chant in the Liturgy. For as much as the bishops encourage parishes to use Gregorian chant, STL also encourages other forms of liturgical music, especially those musical works that are “sensitive to the cultural and spiritual milieu[s]” (STL 73) of each community. In his commentary, Ruff also notes that chant is never to be used as a “weapon in any divisive way.”[2] I agree wholeheartedly. In today’s liturgical culture, it is too easily assumed that chant is a way of returning to the ‘pre-Vatican II church.’ I would hope not. However, I do agree with STL in suggesting that we try and make greater attempts to reintroduce our musical heritage into our liturgical celebrations as a means of uniting with our ancestors in the faith. This can be done either through the use of Latin chant or vernacular chant in the style of Gregorian chant.

Chant as a Means of Inter-Religious Dialogue

During a trip to Bodrum, Turkey in 2012, Mr. Jeffrey Tucker was awoken early in the morning by “something strange and mysterious, a voice of some sort, a song.” Ignoring it, he was surprised to hear the same thing at the same time the next morning. Upon listening more closely, Mr. Tucker realized that this was some sort of religious chant. Eventually, Tucker discovered there was a mosque near his hotel and that this chant was being broadcast over the loudspeakers of the worship space to alert the local faithful of the first hour of prayer. Now that he knew what was being sung, Tucker made it a point to rise early the next day to listen. He made a connection between this chant and the chant that is inherent to the Catholic tradition. He blogged, “[a]t first, the sound puzzled me. Too foreign. I couldn’t understand the words. But then I became curious and heard melodic and textual similarities to the Gregorian chant. Surely there is a common ancestor between Quranic chant and the Gregorian tradition. They both use scripture. They both proclaim the word. They both date from the first millennium. They are both unmistakably religious.”

For Tucker, this commonality between the two chant traditions is a means of opening the doors to inter-religious dialogue and perhaps even a shared mode of prayer. However, in his mind, Catholic Christians are grossly unprepared to share in this liturgical expression of dialogue. What is Tucker’s solution? I’ll let him speak for himself:

“Let’s shore up Christian tradition – particularly our public prayer. Let’s rediscover our own native chant, the sung prayer that built civilization. It’s right there waiting for us. We too can make a joyful noise when we pray. We too can chant to praise God. It can become part of our lives. It can make us more faithful. And it can attract more people to the faith.”

How do we start to chant?

Given these two positions on the positive elements of chant, perhaps one can wonder, is it too late to begin to chant? It seems as though chant has been one of those practices that is too hard to reestablish. Are there any resources available to help us? Indeed. Especially since the pontificate of Benedict XVI, many musicians have sought to reestablish some kind of chanting tradition in their parishes and/or religious communities. This newer tradition involves both Latin chant as well as vernacular chant. Groups like the Church Music Association of America sponsors various types of chant reading symposiums throughout the year in a variety of locations. Likewise, Corpus Christi Watershed is a website that makes available many settings of Gregorian chant masses, including the settings mentioned in STL.

Individual composers are setting vernacular texts of the liturgical year into collections that are available for purchase. Some of these authors include Arlene Oost-Zinner who authored Parish Book of Psalms a collection of English Responsorial Psalms in the Gregorian Tradition. Another is Adam Bartlett, who arranged the Propers of the Mass into a simplified, vernacular edition called Simple English PropersMr. Bartlett is also working on compiling a collection of Gregorian chant set in the Spanish vernacular. A release date on that volume is pending. Another newer publication is from Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. who published Canticum novum: Gregorian Chant for Today’s Choirs. This volume published by GIA contains 100 hymns and antiphons for all occasions throughout the liturgical year.

In addition, various religious groups are releasing audio recordings of chanted melodies. First, Anthony Ruff has two CDs of Gregorian chant. The first CD is in conjunction with book of chants, Canticum novum, and the second called Singing with Mary & The Saints, sung by the Schola of Saint John out of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN. Also, the Dominican Sisters of Mary the Mother of the Eucharist from Ann Arbor, MI, released an album last year called Mater Eucharistiae. Some local Chicago parishes are also regularly using chanted Propers (either in Latin or the vernacular) in their own celebrations of the Eucharist. Some of these parishes are St. John Cantius, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Clement and St. Vincent de Paul, just to name a few.

Of course, there are many other recordings of chant available as well as many other books promoting the use of chant in the Church. I would encourage all to examine these resources, as it seems that the chant movement is becoming more and more prevalent in the American church.

Indeed, Let’s be a Chanting Church

By “shoring up” our tradition, as Mr. Tucker suggests, we may be more able to speak a similar liturgical language with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Perhaps the same could be true with our Jewish neighbors as well as many Orthodox traditions. By chanting our prayers, especially in the context of our Eucharistic celebrations, we are connected in a unique way to our past while being open to new possibilities with brothers and sisters of other faith traditions. The more I learn about the role of chant in our liturgical tradition, the more it makes sense to me. The Second Vatican Council pointed towards it, the United States bishops suggest it, and a blogger found chant to be a point of similarity in the middle of a foreign place. So, perhaps it is time to again rediscover our chanting tradition. Various groups on both sides of the chant debate are already producing volumes of chant to incorporate into the Roman rite. Perhaps its time to sing to the Lord in a way that is ever ancient and ever new!

[1] Anthony Ruff, “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship,” Liturgical Music Today, 17 (2008): 82.

[2] Ibid.