Introductory Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza,
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN At The Event of the Permanent Observer Mission co-sponsored by the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) entitled: Nostra Aetate, Accomplishment and the Next 50 Years: Catholic-Jewish Relations as a Paradigm for Dialogue, Cooperation and the Pursuit of Peace
Economic and Social Council Chamber, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 1 December 2015
Your Excellencies, Esteemed Colleagues, Jewish and Catholic Leaders, and Dear Friends,
It gives me great joy to welcome you today to this commemorative and celebratory event marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s landmark declaration Nostra Aetate on the Relation of the Catholic Church with non-Christian Religions.
Nostra Aetate is by far the shortest of all the major documents of the Vatican Council — only five paragraphs and 1200 Latin words — but we give thanks that its impact over these past five years has been so much greater than its length!
Today we give thanks in a special way for the Declaration’s fourth paragraph, which has revolutionized relations between Catholics and Jews, and led to so much fruit on so many levels.
At a theological level, we celebrate five decades of conversation between Jews and Catholics on the spiritual bonds flowing from our mutual love for the person and faith of Abraham, for God’s loving design expressed in the Covenant and the Commandments, for the way God never ceases to call us as he called the Patriarchs, Moses and the Prophets, and for the gift of God’s holy word and inexpressible mercy.
For Catholics, our greatest heroes are Jews — not just the Patriarchs and Prophets already named, but Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, Saul of Tarsus, and so many others — and even though in some places it took 1900 years to begin to let our love for them rightly overflow to all of their Jewish relatives in every generation, we’re grateful that over the last 50 years we’ve been making up for centuries of lost time.
This Golden Jubilee is an opportunity for us not only to look back with gratitude but to look to the present and future with hope and commitment. These last fifty years have involved far more than fraternal discussions among rabbis and priests, between Scriptural scholars and theologians. One of the great achievements is that Jews and Catholics have been forging new bonds to strengthen each other’s response to God’s great Shema to love him with all we have (Deut 6:4) and his great imperative in the Torah to love our neighbor, his image and likeness, as we love ourselves (Lev 19:18; Gen 1:27).
This growth in living and working together in common witness to the love of God in the world is one of the great fruits of these first fifty years and that progress, after centuries of difficulties, is an inspiring and urgently-needed paradigm for dialogue, cooperation and the pursuit of peace not just among religions but among peoples. This is one of the reasons why holding an event commemorating Nostra Aetate here at the United Nations is so appropriate.
I’m very grateful to the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations for co-hosting this event with the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission. Embracing 11 different prominent Jewish Member Organizations, IJCIC has been for 45 years the official Jewish dialogue partner of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews as well as with the Orthodox Church, the World Council of Churches and other international bodies. I am grateful to Martin Budd, IJCIC Chairman of the Board, for IJCIC’s leadership and eagerness in hosting this joint commemoration.
We have a rich program ahead of us, which you can see on the handouts given to you, which also contain biographical notes on our speakers and a short bibliography for further study. We will try to have some time for input from Missions, Scholars and everyone present toward the end of the program, time permitting.
I’d like to finish my introduction by alluding to the type of interreligious dialogue inspired by Nostra Aetate in which Pope Francis has been engaging now for many years. One of the beautiful fruits of the last half century has been the development of friendships like the one first Father, then Bishop, the Archbishop, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio developed in Buenos Aires with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a bond that has now in some sense been universalized in Bergoglio’s election to the papacy.
Pope Francis has long said that the type of interreligious dialogue he fosters is “caminar juntos,” to begin to walk together so that you can grow in friendship and from there conversations of life and every other level can happen. He has lived that type of existential journey with Rabbi Skorka and what a gift it is to all of us that they have allowed us into their conversation with the publication of the book length dialogue On Heaven and Earth.
As Rabbi Skorka said to him at the very beginning of that conversation, “While studying the books of the Talmud, I found one that says that friendship means sharing meals and spending time together, but in the end it points out that the sign of a real friendship is the ability to reveal what is in one’s heart to the other person. That is what happened over time with the two of us.”
Rabbi Skorka then went on to describe what he thought was behind that brotherly bond and friendship: “I believe that undoubtedly the most important thing that brought us together was, and still is, G-d, who caused our paths to cross and allowed us to open our hearts to each other.”
The same God whom Rabbi Skorka believes brought the two of them together has been bringing Catholics and Jews together over the past fifty years, allowing us to open our hearts to each other, to bind ourselves to each other in fraternity and friendship, and to seek to help each other give glory to God’s name and to care lovingly for everyone and everything he has created.
That’s what we celebrate today! And thanks for enriching our celebration with your presence.
Introduction of Bishop Murphy
I would now like to introduce the Most Reverend William Murphy, Bishop of Rockville Center on Long Island, who will give the Catholic keynote for our event this afternoon.
Bishop Murphy served for 14 years in the Vatican at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace before returning to his native Boston where after he was Vicar General, Moderator of the Curia and an auxiliary bishop. In 2001 he was named by Pope John Paul II as the fourth Bishop of Rockville Center.
Many times he has been a member of Holy See Delegations for UN Conferences and was a member of the Third UN Special Session on Disarmament. He was appointed by Pope Benedict in 2007 to serve as a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a year later to as a consultor to the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He has served on the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee of the U.S. Bishops and serves as a representative to the Orthodox Union and the Orthodox Rabbis of the RCA.
He will address from a Catholic perspective the theme of the accomplishments of the past fifty years and how we build on it moving forward.
Bishop Murphy, you have the floor.
Introduction of Rabbi Sack
Thank you very much, Bishop Murphy, for walking us through so much of the history that led to Nostra Aetate, the many obstacles that were overcome, the call to communion that it made, and for summoning us to follow John Paul II’s call and example to offer a prayerful and peaceful alternative to the violence that continues to plague our world.
I am now delighted to introduce Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who will address us by video. When IJCIC and our Mission first began to plan for this event, we both said we wanted the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth to speak to us and invited him, but his greater than normal travel schedule around the anniversary of Nostra Aetate made it impossible for him to be present personally. But he asked if he might be able to speak to those assembled by video, and after you hear his ten minute presentation, I think you’ll be glad we jumped at the answer.
Rabbi Sacks is the author of 25 books, including his latest, Not in God’s Name, which is a rebuke to all those who kill in the name of the God of life, wage war in the name of the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of love, and practice cruelty in the name of the God of compassion. He is one of the most listened to moral voices of our time. Let’s now listen to him together.
Introduction of Brian Corbin
We’re grateful to Rabbi Sacks for his powerful presentation on the history of Nostra Aetate from a Jewish perspective as well as for his call to joint action to battle against anti-Semitism, the persecution and ethnic cleansing of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the atrocities committed against Muslims by Islamist extremists, seeking to imitate Pope John XXIII and Jules Isaac, to honor God, seek peace, protect the sanctify of human life and change the course of history.
I’m now happy to introduce Mr. Brian Corbin, who is now an Executive Vice President for Member Services at Catholic Charities USA where previously he served as Senior Vice President of Social Policy. For 27 years he was the Executive Director of Catholic Charities Services and Health Affairs in the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio. Catholic Charities USA is the Catholic Church’s social service arm throughout the United States, serving 45.3 million people living in poverty each year.
One of the goals that the Holy See Permanent Observer Mission and IJCIC had was to feature the collaboration of Jewish and Catholic believers and organizations in caring for our neighbors in need. And Brian, with his 30 years on the ground and in administration, is one of the most knowledgeable speakers Catholics have about this beneficial and growing association. He’s here to speak about the collaboration between Catholic and Jewish groups in food, housing, disaster work, social welfare and social justice. Welcome, Brian. You have the floor.
Introduction of Rabbi Stanton
I thank Brian for his broad and striking presentation on how much Jews and Catholics are doing together to serve the common good and the many short-term and long-term good of those in need. It certainly is a good foundation on which to strengthen our partnership moving forward and a call to creativity in creating even greater common projects moving forward.
I now have the joy to introduce Rabbi Joshua Stanton, who is the Assistant Rabbi at Temple B’Nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. He is a co-Leader of Tribe, a group for young Jewish professionals in New York, and serves as one of the representatives from the Central Conference of American Rabbis on the Board of IJCIC.
He will speak on the work of young Jews and Catholics to advance the new era of mutual esteem, fraternity, and collaboration, in responding to the needs of our time building on the foundations laid by Catholic and Jewish leaders a century ago.
Introduction of Bernard-Henry Lévy
Thank you, Rabbi Stanton, for your words and witness to the new spirit of fraternity between Catholics and Jews that Nostra Aetate has occasioned as well as for your commitment and leadership to have that spirit spread.
I now am very happy to introduce for our Jewish keynote Bernard-Henri Lévy, philosopher, journalist and prolific author, whom the Boston Globe has called “perhaps the most prominent intellectual in France today” and whom the Jerusalem Post named as one of the world’s 50 most influential Jews.
Introduction of Michel Landau
The last item on our program is a special presentation by Michael Landau, Chairman of MAP International and Chairman of the Council of Orthodox Jewish Organizations of Manhattan, who has been the chief liaison of IJCIC in preparation for today’s special commemoration. His months of hard work in collaboration with our Mission has been a real example of the Nostra Aetate in action.
One of the ways he has gone beyond the call of duty has been with regard to what he will now speak about.
Michael, you have the floor.
I would like to thank everyone once again for coming this afternoon to this celebration and commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Nostra Aetate. I thank Martin Budd and IJCIC for your collaboration and friendship, and I hope that this will be just one chapter in an encyclopedia of future interaction. I also thank our speakers for all your insights and contributions of the great legacy of Nostra Aetate, what it means for the future, and how ut serves as a paradigm for dialogue, cooperation and the pursuit of peace.
I’d like to finish with a story.
When John Paul II visited Mainz, Germany in 1980, he reflected on what God had said to Abraham, the father in faith for both Jews and Catholics, when he called him from Ur of the Chaldeans and sent him in faith to the land he would show him. “I will make of you a great nation,” God told him, “and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you” (Gen 12:2-3)
St. John Paul II commented, “Jews and Christians, as children of Abraham, are called to be a blessing for the world insofar as they commit themselves together for peace and justice among all men and peoples and do it in the fullness and depth as God himself has designed it for us, and with the willingness to sacrifice that this high goal can demand. The more this sacred duty makes its imprint on our association, the greater the blessing will be, even for ourselves!”
That’s the blessing that Nostra Aetate has allowed us to receive and that’s the blessing that God has given to the world through our joint commitment for justice and peace. We ask God to deepen our associations moving forward so that, as Pope John Paul II assured, it will lead to greater blessings still!
Thank you once again for coming. Good afternoon.