50 Years of Nostra Aetate

Nostra aetate (Latin: In our Time) is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council. Passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 of the assembled bishops, this declaration was promulgated on October 28, 1965, by Pope Paul VI. In Australia, this anniversary was observed with a special celebration at the Great Synagogue, Sydney. In this article, we bring you Pope Francis’s Message on this occasion.

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.

[Original text: Italian]

[Translation by ZENIT]

On 28 October, Pope Frances conducted a General Audience in St Peter’s Square on the Anniversary of Nostra Aetate. You may read a full account of the General Audience here.


50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate on 28 October 2015

SourceZenit, courtesy