Fifty years have gone by since the promulgation of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate, when the Church, listening to a world in rapid change, began to invite her members in a decisive way to promote relations of respect, friendship and dialogue with persons of other religions. Therefore, we are immensely grateful to you for having wished to hold an Inter-Religious General Audience, precisely on this day, in Saint Peter’s Square. Present here among others are the participants in the International Congress on Nostra Aetate, which is taking place at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and representatives of various religions. In our common search for peace, the promise of the prophet Isaiah gives us hope: the Lord “will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast on all peoples, the veil that is spread over all the nations” (Isaiah 25:7).
Of that journey to that mountain, which at times has been difficult, but always exalting, in these first 50 years we, all gathered here today with you, Holy Father Francis, are witnesses, heirs and protagonists.
Thank you for your luminous witness, which encourages us to continue on the path of inter-religious dialogue, going to meet other believers with a clear awareness of our own identity, but with a spirit of great respect, esteem and friendship, ready to work together with those who pray and think differently from us.
Thank you for your incessant and tireless invitations, addressed to us believers and to all men and women of good will, to do our utmost for peace, eliminating injustices and inequalities, and to take care of our common home.
Today, gathered here in Rome around you, Successor of Peter, we wish to pray for peace – as has happened in the past in the Days of Assisi, and witness before the entire world that universal fraternity is possible.
CARDINAL KURT KOCH’S GREETING
It is a joy and an honor for me to be able to greet you here in Saint Peter’s Square, also in the name of the representatives of the Jewish community that are taking part in the International Congress on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate,” and, in particular, in the name of the delegation of the World Jewish Congress. Today’s Audience is an important contribution to further reflection on that “culture of encounter” between persons, peoples and religions that you have very much at heart.
Holy Father, a meeting heralding promises also took place at the beginning of the process that led to the drafting of “Nostra Aetate.” It was the conversation held on June 13, 1960, between the Holy Pope John XXIII and the Jewish historian Jules Isaak, who had presented to the Supreme Pontiff a Denkschrift with the urgent request to promote a new vision of relations between the Church and Judaism. After only a few months from this meeting, Pope John XXIII assigned the task to prepare a Declaration on the Jewish people for the Council. In the end this text was introduced as the fourth article in the Declaration on the relations of the Church with non-Christian religions.
This article represents not only the point of departure but the fulcrum itself of the entire “Nostra Aetate” Declaration. In fact, the Church has an altogether particular relation with the Jewish people, as one reads already in the first phrase: “As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock” (Nostra Aetate 4). In the light of this communion that exists between Jews and Christians in the history of salvation, the Council makes evident the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and acknowledges the great “common spiritual patrimony” to Christians and to Jews. Moreover, the Council deplores all hatred and manifestations of violence against the Jewish people, also by Christians, and condemns all forms of anti-Semitism.
“Nostra Aetate” is rightly considered the basic document and the Magna Charta of a fruitful relation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. On the 50th anniversary of this Declaration, we can also recall with gratitude that after the Council all the subsequent Pontiffs confirmed and deepened the encouraging prospects that are founded on “Nostra Aetate.” Holy Father, from time to time you have confirmed your great appreciation for the Jewish people. You expressed it in particular during your visit to the Holy Land with your prayer at the Wailing Wall and your touching reflection at the Yad Vashem Memorial.
In our days, at a time in which unfortunately new waves of anti-Semitism have arisen, you, Holy Father, remind us Christians incessantly that it is impossible to be a Christian and an anti-Semite at the same time. For this your unequivocal message and for the benevolence that you have always shown to our Jewish brothers and sisters, my heartfelt gratitude, also in the name of the Jewish representatives here present and the whole Jewish community, and I ask upon us your <Blessing>. Shalom!
THE HOLY FATHER’S CATECHESIS
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Often in the General Audiences there are persons or groups belonging to other religions. However, today this presence is altogether particular, to remember together the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council Declaration “Nostra Aetate,” on the Catholic Church’s relations with non-Christian religions. Blessed Pope Paul VI had this subject very much at heart; he already on the feast of Pentecost of the previous year at the end of the Council, instituted the Secretariat for non-Christians, today the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Therefore I express my gratitude and my warm welcome to persons and groups of different religions, especially those from far away that wished to be present today.
Vatican II was an extraordinary time of reflection, dialogue and prayer to renew the Catholic Church’s look on herself and on the world – a reading of the signs of the times in view of an updating oriented by a twofold fidelity: fidelity to the ecclesial tradition and fidelity to the history of the men and women of our time. In fact God, who has revealed Himself in Creation and in history, who has spoken through the prophets and fully in His Son made man (cf. Hebrews 1:1), addresses the heart and spirit of every human being who seeks truth and ways to practice it.
The message of the “Nostra Aetate” Declaration is always timely. I will recall some points briefly:
the growing interdependence of peoples (cf. n. 1);
the human search for the meaning of life, of suffering, of death, questions that always accompany our journey (cf. n. 1);
humanity’s common origin and common destiny (cf. n. 1);
the oneness of the human family (cf. n. 1);
religions as the search for God and of the Absolute , within the different ethnic groups and cultures (cf. n. 1);
the benevolent and attentive look of the Church on the religions: she does not reject anything of what is beautiful and true in them (cf. n. 2);
the Church looks with esteem on believers of all religions, appreciating their spiritual and moral commitment (cf. n. 3);
the Church, open to dialogue with all, is at the same time faithful to the truths in which she believes, beginning with the one that the salvation offered to all has its origin in Jesus, only Savior, and that the Holy Spirit is at work, as source of peace and love.
There have been so many events, initiatives, institutional or personal relations with non-Christian religions in these last 50 years, that it is difficult to remember them all. A particularly significant event was the meeting of Assisi on October 27, 1986. It was desired and promoted by Saint John Paul II, who a year earlier, hence thirty years ago, addressing young Muslims at Casablanca, hoped that all believers in God would foster friendship and union among all men and peoples (August 19, 1985). The flame lighted at Assisi has extended to the whole world and constitutes a permanent sign of hope.
Special gratitude is owed to God for the true and proper transformation of the relation in these 50 years between Christians and Jews. Indifference and opposition have changed into collaboration and benevolence. From enemies and strangers we have become friends and brothers. The Council traced the way with the “Nostra Aetate” Declaration: “yes” to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity; “no” to every form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of all insults, discrimination and persecutions that stem from it. Mutual knowledge, respect and esteem constitute the way that, if it is true in a particular way for the relation with the Jews, is also equally true for relations with the other religions. I am thinking in particular of the Muslims who – as the Council reminded – “adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men” (“Nostra Aetate,” 3). They refer to the paternity of Abraham, venerate Jesus as a prophet, honor his Virgin Mother, Mary, await the Day of Judgment, and practice prayer, almsgiving and fasting (cf. Ibid.).
The dialogue of which we are in need cannot be but open and respectful, and then it reveals itself fruitful. The condition is mutual respect and, at the same time, aim of the inter-religious dialogue: respect of others’ right to life, of their physical integrity, of the fundamental liberties, namely liberty of conscience, of thought, of expression and of religion.
The world looks at us believers, it exhorts us to collaborate with one another and with men and women of good will who do not profess a religion; it asks us for effective answers on numerous subjects: peace, hunger, the misery that affects millions of people, the environmental crisis, violence, in particular that committed in the name of religion, corruption, moral degradation, family crises the economy, finance and above all hope. We believers do not have recipes for these problems, but we have a great resource: prayer. And we believers pray. We must pray. Prayer is our treasure, from which we draw according to our respective traditions, to ask for the gifts for which humanity yearns.
Because of violence and terrorism, an attitude of suspicion has spread, if not of downright condemnation of religions. In reality, although no religion is immune from the risk of fundamentalist or extremist deviations in individuals and groups (cf. Address to the U.S. Congress, September 24, 2015), it is necessary to look at the positive values that they live and that they propose, which are sources of hope. It is about raising one’s eyes to go beyond. Dialogue based on trustful respect can bring seeds of good that in turn become shoots of friendship and collaboration in so many fields, especially in service to the poor, to the little ones, to the elderly, in the reception of migrants, in the care of those that are excluded. We can walk together taking care of one another and of Creation – all believers of all religions. Together we can praise the Creator for having given us the garden of the world to cultivate and protect as a common good, and we can undertake shared projects to fight poverty and ensure to every man and woman fitting conditions of life.
The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which is upon us, is a propitious occasion to work together in the field of works of charity. And in this field, where compassion counts above all, so many persons can join us who do not consider themselves believers or who are searching for God and truth, persons who put at the center the other’s face, in particular, the face of the needy brother or sister. However, the mercy to which we are called embraces the whole of Creation, which God has entrusted to us, so that we are its guardians and not exploiters or, worse still, its destroyers. We must always propose to ourselves to leave it better than we found it (cf. Encyclical Laudato Si’, 194), beginning with the environment in which we live, with the little gestures of our daily life.
Dear brothers and sisters, in regard to the future of inter-religious dialogue, the first thing we must do is pray, and to pray for one another: we are brothers! May our prayer — each one according to his own tradition — be able to adhere fully to the will of God, who wants all men to recognize themselves as brothers and to live as such, making up the great human family in the harmony of diversity.
GREETING IN ITALIAN
I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking faithful. I am happy to receive the Sisters of Saint Giuseppe Benedetto Cottolengo and the Daughters of Jesus the Good Shepherd on the occasion of their respective General Chapters, encouraging them in their service to the Gospel and to the Church.
I greet the Deacons of the Slovenian College; the Pro Musica and Arte Sacra Foundation, the Haemodialysis Association of Milan and the Angels of Life of Giovinazzo.
On the day of the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude I hope that the memory of the Apostles, first witnesses of the Gospel, will enhance faith and encourage charity.
A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. At the end of the month of October we invoke Mary, Mother of Jesus. Dear young people, learn to pray to her with the simple and effective prayer of the Rosary; dear sick, may Our Lady be your support in the trial of pain; dear newlyweds, imitate her love for God and for brothers!
Now, to end this Audience, I invite all, each one on his own, to pray in silence. Each one should do so according to his religious tradition. Let us ask the Lord to make us more brothers among ourselves, and greater servants of our most needy brothers. Let us pray in silence.
And may God bless all!
THE HOLY FATHER’S APPEAL
We are close to the populations of Pakistan and Afghanistan, scourged by a strong earthquake, which has caused numerous victims and immense damages. We pray for the deceased and their families, for all the wounded and homeless, imploring God for relief in suffering and courage in adversity. May these brothers not lack our concrete solidarity.
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Wales, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Nigeria, Israel, Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the United States of America. In a particular way I greet the ecumenical delegation from Korea, and I renew my thanks to the representatives of the different religions who have joined us today. God bless you all!