On the wings of Nostra Aetate, rabbi sees improved Christian-Jewish relations
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On the wings of Nostra Aetate, rabbi sees improved Christian-Jewish relations

The Nostra Aetate Wings of Peace Award takes the name from a declaration of principles on the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate.

Issued by the Second Vatican Council on Oct. ‘8, 1965, the document, in Latin, takes its name from two of the first words of the text, "In nostra aetate," meaning "in our age."

Approved by a vote a ‘,”1 in favor and 88 against, it was the first formal declaration of the Church about the relations between Catholics and the Jewish people in ‘,000 years.

Called "revolutionary" when it first came out, the declaration heralded a new era in the relationships between the Church and other religions, especially Judaism.

For centuries the relationship between the Church and Jews was marked by mistrust and prejudice, and the institution was blamed for fueling anti-Semitism and accusing the Jews of the death of Jesus.

Although the document maintains that the Jewish authorities at the time of Jesus and those who followed their lead pressed for his death, "what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."

Recognizing the importance of the spiritual patrimony common to Christians, "this sacred synod [the Second Vatican Council] wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues."

Declaring that the Church is mindful of that shared patrimony and is moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, Nostra Aetate "decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."

Before the declaration, according to Rabbi Eugene Korn, director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding of Sacred Heart University, the Church taught that Judaism stopped being a valid religion with the advent of Christianity, and that Jews and Christians were in eternal conflict.

The position of the Church, he added, was that in order for Christianity to be true, Judaism has to be false or obsolete, which led to anti-Semitism and persecution of the Jews at the hands of the Christians.

After the Holocaust, the Church realized that something was wrong with its teachings about Jews and Judaism, he said.

Thus, the first official result was to recognize that the covenant between Jews and God was still valid and to condemn anti-Semitism "in any form, by any person or at any place," according to Korn.

In many ways, the Church did a 180-degree turnaround and it started a process that is still continuing, and part of that process, he added, is that the Church no longer has an office or group devoted to the conversion of Jews. "In fact, there are very little conversion efforts by the Church today," Korn said.

There are "bumps on the road," he acknowledged, but said that they can be worked out.

As an example, he cited that the papal order issued in early July to restore the Mass in Latin and the inclusion of a prayer for the conversion of Jews from the liturgy of the early 1960s.

The prayer says, in part, "Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ."

"The prayer is offensive to me and an affront to any Jew with integrity," Rabbi Korn said.

This was done because there is a group of traditionalists in the Church who want to go back to the old liturgy and "the bad old days," he added.

The Vatican understands it has created a problem and is sensitive to Jewish concerns. It is trying to fix it, and has stated that a replacement for the offensive prayer is being considered, he said.

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