(Vatican Radio) This week the Catholic Church is officially marking the 50th anniversary of a document that has profoundly changed its understanding of other religious faiths. On October 28th 1965 bishops from around the world, gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council, issued ‘Nostra Aetate’ a groundbreaking declaration on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions.
For the first time the bishops said the Church “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religious traditions, urging Catholics to pursue “dialogue and collaboration” with people of all different faiths .In particular the document radically reshaped Catholic relations with the Jewish world, condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and stating that Jews cannot be held responsible for the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ.
Susannah Heschel is an American author and professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College in the United States. She’s also the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who played an influential role in the drawing up of 'Nostra Aetate'. At a recent conference, organised by the Ecclesiological Investigations network at Georgetown University, Philippa Hitchen talked to Susannah about her father's role and about the importance of that document, half a century on…
Ms Heschel tells of how her father once said that “Christians understood his work better than Jews”, and how his involvement in the drafting of ‘Nostra Aetate’ brought with it a “warmth towards Christians that imbued [their family] home”.
She talks about her father’s experience as a Jewish student in Berlin before the Second World War and describes his working relationship with Cardinal Bea, who had served as Pope Pius XII’s personal confessor.
Ms Heschel illustrates just how powerful an influence ‘Nostra Aetate’ has had on interfaith dialogue when she gives the example of her students at Dartmouth, who have never heard anyone suggest that the Jews were responsible for the Passion of Christ.
“This negative teaching has been eliminated in such a short period of time… it’s extraordinary”.