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).