Saturday, November 3, 2007

42 Years Later, Nostra Aetate Yields Ever More Rotten Fruit

The "Great Work" which the Vatican II document,Nostra Aetate set in motion 42 years ago this week has only yet begun. It is intended that every layperson will be as deeply involved with the rabbis as the bishops are.

Catholic-Jewish ties reinforce society

By Patrick Connelly

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(November 1, 2007) — This week marks the 42nd anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the landmark document of the Second Vatican Council, which forever changed the Catholic Church's relationship to non-Christian religions.

The issuance of the document proved to be a watershed moment in the relationship between Catholics and Jews in particular. I have never been more conscious of the bridges built since Nostra Aetate than I was this past week at the first Lay Catholic-Jewish Conference held at the Vatican.

Even my participation in the conference is an example of the collaboration called for by the document. The Catholic Diocese of Rochester, Aquinas Institute and the American Friends of the Ghetto Fighters' Museum formed a unique partnership in supporting this conference. Each organization is committed to education about Judaism and Catholicism, as well as fostering mutual understanding and respect among Catholics and Jews. That this type of partnership took place for a delegate from Rochester is remarkable.

Given the visionary local leadership of Rabbi Alan Katz on behalf of the Rochester Board of Rabbis, Bishop Matthew Clark and Jewish Community Federation President Roberta Borg, the Rochester Agreement of 1996 set a standard for how a local community can enact what Nostra Aetate calls for.

This model has filtered down to include meetings of priests and rabbis, Jewish and Catholic educators and those devoted to family services.

Nostra Aetate and the Rochester Agreement have positively impacted the lives of many students.

Through programs such as the International Book Sharing Project, Catholic students at Aquinas Institute for the past nine years have paired with students in Israel for Internet-based study of the Shoah, or Holocaust.

This year, middle school students at Nazareth and Mercy also will be engaged in age-appropriate education about the Shoah with Israeli classes in Modi'in. The nascent Brennan-Goldman Institute for Catholic-Jewish Studies has already provided opportunities for dialogue between Catholic and Jewish students of high school and college age.

What I witnessed in Rome last week was a commitment at the highest level to continue to advance the vision of Nostra Aetate. I emerged confident that the promotion of Catholic-Jewish relations championed by the late Pope John Paul II will continue under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.

Forever etched in my memory will be the image of Benedict on Wednesday receiving and holding a menorah commemorating the 6 million murdered in the Shoah. This menorah was given to him as a gift of the conference and was presented by Rabbi Abie Ingber and Gunther Lawrence of the Interreligious Information Center based in New York City. I was close enough to hear the Pope's words as he thanked the conference participants not only for this gift but for the important work being done to advance Catholic-Jewish relations.

Cardinal Walter Kaspar, president of the Office of Pontifical Relations with the Jews, remarked to the conference participants that Nostra Aetate is simply a piece of paper unless people at the grass-roots level work to make the relationship between Catholics and Jews breathe and grow.

Rochester has taken the lead in enacting the very thing that Kaspar identified as that which must happen. The respectful dialogue and cooperation between Catholics and Jews is also a model for deepening relationships with other faith traditions also mentioned in Nostra Aetate. In forging such relationships, people of faith become a united front in promoting shared values in a world where those who espouse those values are becoming an increasing minority.

To quote Nostra Aetate, the Christian faithful are implored to "maintain good fellowship among the nations (1 Peter 2:12) and to live for their part in peace with all..." With continued commitment at all levels to dialogue and a deepening of the friendship between Catholics and Jews, the world will indeed become a better place, one neighborhood at a time, and continuing in our own community.

Connelly, of Webster, is a teacher at Aquinas Institute.

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