Amidst troubling news of growing anti-Semitism in Europe, Jewish Rabbis, Catholic priests and the lay community of both faiths will meet at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Los Angeles to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the most groundbreaking document in Catholic-Jewish relations, the Nostra Aetate.
Latin for “In Our Time,” Nostra Aetate was published in 1965, just 20 years after World War II by Pope Paul VI. For the first time, the Catholic Church officially declared that modern Jews were not to blame for the death of Christ and rejected persecution of any man or group.
“That was, in Jewish history, a critically important statement since so much persecution of Jews throughout the centuries was predicated upon this misguided notion of ‘The Jews’ as Christ-killers,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, who serves as the director of the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles.
“True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today,” reads section 4 of the Vatican document.
Rabbi Diamond added that not only did Nostra Aetate condemn persecution, it also encouraged positive interfaith relations between the Church and other faiths, particularly with the Jews.
“It established that God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their fathers, and the notion of spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews,” Rabbi Diamond said. “And the document recommended mutual understanding, respect and fraternal dialogues, and this is so critical.”
Catholic-Jewish relations in the city of Los Angeles have been flourishing for quite some time now.
Father Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligious officer for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said Catholics and Jews in the city cooperate in a variety of ways, including via meetings of rabbis and priests, a Catholic-Jewish women’s groups and collaboration of Catholic and Jewish teachers in local parochial high schools.
“We have a multifaceted Jewish-Catholic dialogue here in L.A.,” Father Smith said.
Catholics can learn a lot when they engage in dialogue and scripture study with the Jewish people, Father Smith added.
“I think we learn their tenacity in the sense of being loyal to their faith, I think we gain a whole appreciation of the psalms, I think also we can learn from them by partnering with them in scripture study,” he said. “We do that in a couple of places in L.A. where a parish and synagogue are in close proximity. It’s a marvelous experience to study what we term the Old Testament, and to see it through Jewish eyes.”
Rabbi Diamond recalled that leading up to the 40th celebration of the document, Jewish and Catholic works of art were displayed side by side on the walls of the Cathedral in L.A for several months. The Jewish pieces depicted the Passover, while the Catholic pieces showed the Passion of Christ.
“I am deeply moved when I think about it that a Catholic cathedral would display this art side by side [with Jewish art]. That was a very moving exhibit,” he said.
The 50th anniversary celebration of Nostra Aetate is open to the public and will feature Rabbi David Rosen, American Jewish Committee International Director of Interreligious Affairs, and Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, specialist in Catholic-Jewish relations in the U.S. for three decades. Rabbi Diamond said the event is a chance for the Catholic and Jewish communities to take a look at what they have in common, and to address what still needs to be done to further good relationships.
“We share a belief in working side by side to heal and repair our broken world,” he said. “We yearn for a messianic era of peace and goodwill … and we understand that we have to be God’s partners working together with God to repair our world, to heal our world, to house the homeless, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick.”
Father Smith said that while great progress has been made in Catholic-Jewish relations in Los Angeles, there must be constant vigilance to maintain and further goodwill between the two faiths.
“That doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels, there’s still aspects of anti-Semitism, and we have to be prepared to combat that,” he said.
Recent attacks in France at the beginning of this year put the spotlight on growing anti-Semitism in Europe, which deeply troubled Rabbi Diamond.
“It is of great concern to me personally and professionally to witness an outbreak of anti-Semitism, especially in Europe not that many decades after the Holocaust,” he said. “It’s an awful tragedy, a terrible tragedy.”
Rabbi Diamond said the persecution of Jews in Europe today is fueled by religious anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments, but the Jewish people recognize that none of it is on behalf of the Catholic Church.
“Today we understand and appreciate that the Catholic Church is a significant ally, and should be an ally in the efforts to condemn anti-Semitism and to eradicate it,” he said.
Rabbi Rosen, the previously mentioned featured speaker at the upcoming event, has a close relationship with Pope Francis and has visited the Vatican many times, Rabbi Diamond said.
“And we’re confident that Pope Francis and other Church leaders will work together with us to defeat this.”
The 50th anniversary celebration of Nostra Aetate will take place on Feb. 17 at 7:30 pm at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Los Angeles. The event is open to the public. RSVP to [email protected] or [email protected].