This evening, the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, David Rosen, and the Bishop of Dallas, Brian Farrell, will deliver a joint address, commemorating Nostra Aetate, a declaration made by Pope Paul VI in October of 1965.
The declaration called for recognition of unity between religions, exhorting Catholics to make an effort to treat those of other religions with Christian charity and respect, including keeping open dialogue with other religious leaders.
The declaration mentioned several religions, including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, but predominately emphasized improving relations with Judaism.
“Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading,” Pope Paul wrote in the declaration. “Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers.”
He then went on to condemn any display of anti-Semitism.
“[W]hat happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today,” the pope said. “Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely.”
These quotations, in a perfect world, would be surprising. Why should a pope have to remind faithful Catholics that today’s Jewish community is not to blame for Jesus’ death? Why would a Catholic pontiff have to remind Catholics to be charitable?
The reality, though, is that these exhortations were, and still are necessary, even for students at the University of Dallas, one of the country’s most orthodox Catholic campuses.
Judaism is more than a religion; it is, with few exceptions, a more or less ethnically homogenous group of individuals who practice, among other things, similar holidays with differing amounts of religious devotion.
However, these distinctions make no difference to the far-right extremists in Europe today who seek to ethnically cleanse their countries. They made no difference to the infamous Nazi regime and the other ideologies of the last century, who systematically killed Jewish persons as part of political schemes. These distinctions made no difference to William Shakespeare, who painted Jewish people as evil with a broad brush in his famous plays, seen even today as great works of literature. These distinctions made no difference to the Egyptians of antiquity, who enslaved the Jewish people long before Christ was on earth, nor to the countless other persecutors, whose atrocities have been overshadowed to an extent by the aforementioned groups’ acts.
Unfortunately, Catholics are not free from guilt of anti-Semitism. The Spanish Inquisition was a particularly bad period in Jewish-Catholic relations, as one might assume. Many Catholics, even today, associate Judaism with the Jewish leaders of some 2000 years ago, who handed Christ over to be crucified. Luckily, this is only a small minority, but this does not take away from the tainted image the Catholic Church has in the eyes of Jewish people. The Catholic Church, as the largest and most original Christian religion, is seen in the eyes of some of the Jewish people to be the cause, directly or indirectly, of many of these ills.
For these reasons, it was only logical for Pope Paul to exhort Catholics to be true Christians in their charity to other religious groups, especially the Jewish community, which had been the object of so much anti-Semitism not long before the declaration was written.
Google the event, called “Nostra Aetate — 50 Years Later,” and the search results are telling of why this declaration was absolutely necessary for the Catholic Church. The first result, from “Vatican Insider” describes the event as “Giant strides seen by Jewish leaders in the Catholic Church’s relations with Judaism and opening to the world.”
The second result, from “Jerusalem Post,” an Israeli newspaper, which is printed in English, claims that Nostra Aetate “changed the Church from as a predatory bully, to a world faith ready to discourse with other world faiths.”
The Catholic Church must continue such pursuits in order to be true to its own standards.