These days, we cannot help but feel profound sadness when looking at the events in the Middle East. Images of suffering, destruction and despair leave no doubt that, in our time, the gift of life and prosperity continues to be denied for so many. By contemplating the evil of war and violence, we are reminded that peace is a fragile and precious gift, which often seems unreachable through our human endeavours.
In order not to get caught in despair, I prefer to think that we -as humanity- are on a journey towards peace, which- like any other journey- has its many seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and is filled with instances in which we -as sojourners- succumb to the temptation of apathy and inaction. As has often been repeated, peace is not only the absence of conflict and war. Peace is a state of wholeness, in which all creatures live in harmony, nurturing each other and enabling each other’s fulfilment. That is the biblical Jewish vision of Shalom, which lies at the heart of Jesus’ teachings.
In the aftermath of the violent first half of the 20th century and the devastation of the Holocaust, the Church authorities felt prompted to open a path of reconciliation and peace with others. With a vision centred on the concept of common humanity, the Church embarked on a journey which began with the recognition of its past errors, continued with a renewal of its teachings and led to a steadfast commitment to an ongoing dialogue with people of other faiths. The teachings contained in the Nostra Aetate declaration (promulgated 58 years ago by Pope Paul VI), heralded a paradigm shift in the way the Church perceived others and crucially, the way it saw itself. The declaration initiated a journey of increasing awareness of the holiness and goodness which can be found beyond the compounds of the Church.
In just under sixteen hundred words, Nostra Aetate is recognised for having changed the landscape of interreligious dialogue, influencing the thinking and action not only of Catholics but also of many Christians from other denominations and even, people of other faiths. The journey started by this Declaration in 1965 is far from its completion. Nevertheless, over the past six decades, Nostra Aetate has awakened a movement of openness within the churches which has helped deepen the Christians’ understanding of humanity, Creation and its Creator. This emerging understanding is coloured by the encounters and relationships with our sisters and brothers from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Shinto, Sikh, Buddhist and other traditions.
I believe the teachings of Nostra Aetate – and other subsequent documents about dialogue, promulgated by Catholic and other churches in recent decades-, offer a path to building that Shalom that Jesus offers to his followers. The current Synod on Synodality places at its heart the value of honest and courageous dialogue which also prompted the emergence of this important document nearly six decades ago. It seems to me that the lessons learnt by Christians who encounter people of other faiths -or of no faith- can help us better discern our contribution to world peace in these troubled times.
We invite you to read this profoundly significant document here.