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In 50 Years Since ‘Nostra Aetate,’ Church Has Built Strong Interreligious Ties

13 Oct 2015 – By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The scene in Foundation Hall of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum during Pope Francis’ visit spoke volumes about the Catholic Church and interreligious relations.

On the platform with Pope Francis on 25 September were representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Muslim religions as well as Christian religions. All equal. All offering prayers for peace and words of inspiration from their sacred texts.

The event symbolized the strengthening relations and solidarity that the Catholic Church has with non-Christian religions as envisioned by “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Time”), the Vatican II declaration that addressed the relations of the Catholic Church with other religions, said Father John W. Crossin, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“This event is symbolic and is iconic,” Father Crossin, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales, summarized in an interview with Catholic News Service. “It’s a healing message.”

Jesuit Father Francis X. Clooney, director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, attended the ground zero event. He said the pope’s participation served as an example for people of faith to follow.

“At ground zero, the pope was saying given today’s world and the environmental crisis and poverty and terrible scenes of religious violence, all of us across religious traditions, as religious leaders, have to work together,” Father Clooney said. “This is a time for people to work together.”

In the 50 years since “Nostra Aetate” was released on 28 October, 1965, each pope since has promoted interreligious understanding in numerous outreach efforts. What was originally proposed by St. John XXIII as a statement related to Jews eventually evolved to encompass non-Christian religions and ended up being a stand-alone message emerging from the Second Vatican Council.

“Nostra Aetate,” is one of the 16 documents that emerged from the council. At three pages it is the shortest, but it is one of the council’s most influential on church life.

The declaration begins by acknowledging that humanity “is being drawn closer together and the ties between different people are becoming stronger.” In subsequent paragraphs, it specifically addresses Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. The key observation about other faiths comes in paragraph 2, according to retired Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, an expert on Islam, who was president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 2002 to 2006.

Specifically the passage reads: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings, which through different in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all men.”

For Archbishop Fitzgerald, that recognition is what has led the Catholic Church to initiate dialogues to create greater interreligious understanding and respect.

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