Celebrating ‘Nostra Aetate’ with a ray of truth

January 27, 2015

HOUSTON — Christian, Jew or Muslim, all are children of Abraham. While the religions worship differently, they worship the one God. Because they do, they know that God loves every soul, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto or something else. “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions,” the Second Vatican Council said in 1965. 

“It has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from its own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.”

That bold declaration was made in Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), which sought to put an end to centuries of enmity and discord between Christians and non-Christians — notably Muslims and Jews — “for the benefit of all, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.” 

Nostra Aetate was a commentary on the times — and on the Church’s reformed position in regard to other religions. In 50 years, followers of the faith have made some significant strides — but still have far to go to bring about peace and goodwill between religious groups. 

That was the commentary on present times — heard by about 600 Christians and Jews at the second annual Lowenstein Lecture, this year held at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Jan. 12. The lecture series — second of four annual events — is designed to deepen relationships between Catholics and Jews. 

The evening featured an unscripted conversation between Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and Rabbi David Rosen of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, one of Houston’s largest synagogues. 

“I think the fact that this conversation is taking place, is being repeated in conversations between priest and rabbis all over the world, is a phenomenon that we should never take for granted because it is genuinely a blessing that came from Nostra Aetate,” Rabbi Rosen said. 

Specific to Catholics’ relationship to Jews, Nostra Aetate condemned anti-Semitism in all forms, declaring that Jews today must not be blamed for Christ’s death on the cross. That was the work of Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, according to Scripture, which also points out that Christ went willingly to death to fulfill His destiny.

The two leaders talked about mutual respect, their personal experiences with Nostra Aetate and the need for a reformed, more humane immigration policy. 

They also acknowledged the five attacks in France by fringe Muslim extremists just days prior, which fueled anti-Islamic protests by xenophobic political groups across Europe. Seventeen people were killed in the Paris-area attacks, including four hostages held in a kosher supermarket.

Chun-Mee Chaline, Vice Consul for the French Consulate in Houston, lit a candle in memoriam. 

The Cardinal and rabbi also expressed their desire to strengthen ties with the Islamic community in Houston. “All of us who are religious leaders would like to see something like that,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

The lecture series is organized by The Lewis and Joan Lowenstein Foundation in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Congregation Beth Yeshurun and the Anti-Defamation League’s Coalition for Mutual Respect.

Father Brendan Cahill, Secretariat for Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services, moderated the conversation. Other speakers included Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, director of Interfaith Affairs for the Anti-Defamation League and ADL Regional Director Martin Cominsky. Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, who said he was at the Second Vatican Council in 1965 when Nostra Aetate was published, delivered the invocation.