By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published October 16, 2015
ATLANTA—The American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta regional office and the Atlanta Archdiocese invite the public to celebrate 50 years of dialogue, friendship and reparation in Jewish-Catholic relations with an evening of art, music and faith on Wednesday, Oct. 28, at the Ferst Center at Georgia Tech.
The jubilee celebration culminates a year of activities marking the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the document of the Second Vatican Council, which for the first time in history called for Jewish-Catholic dialogue and affirmed respect for non-Christian world religions.
Pope Paul VI released the document on Oct. 28, 1965.
Latin for “In Our Time,” the declaration on the relation of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions passed after intense debate at the council and transformed the church’s approach to Judaism after centuries of troubled relations. It repudiates the centuries-old deicide charge against all Jews, stresses the religious bond shared by Jews and Catholics, and clarifies that there is no supersession of Judaism by Christianity.
“This is an historic time we live in. To be able to celebrate something nobody ever thought possible shows how far we as a community have come,” said Dov Wilker, executive director of the AJC Atlanta regional office, who coordinated the event at Georgia Tech alongside Paula Gwynn Grant, communications director of the Atlanta Archdiocese.
Archbishop Gregory, Rabbi Rudin are hosts
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Rabbi James Rudin, senior advisor for interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, are hosts for the evening and will provide commentary during the program.
In a telephone interview, the archbishop described the document as a “critical moment” in church history that was “admittedly long overdue.”
The arts evening “brings together expressions of our artistic treasures from both of our communities that we will share with each other to highlight the impact of ‘Nostra Aetate’ and the importance of the ongoing friendship between the Jewish and Catholic community in the Atlanta area,” he said.
Uplifting music will set a spiritual tone for the program. A jubilee choir directed by Dónal Noonan, music director at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, will perform “The Lord Is My Light” based on Psalm 27 and “We Are Marching,” while music director Bernie Sotola will direct All Saints Church, Dunwoody, and Shrine choir members in “Ubi Caritas.” Singers from various Jewish congregations will perform.
A combined youth choir from Marist School and Davis Academy will sing a composition by Davis’ Rabbi Micah Lapidus from Psalm 133: “How good it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in peace.”
The song celebrates the established partnership between the Catholic school and Reform Jewish academy, in which students meet to learn about each other’s faith and perform community service together.
The Amazing Grace Dance Ensemble, formed at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta, and the Jewish Weber School Dance Group will also perform.
Theatrical community dramatizes history
Chris Moses, Alliance Theatre director of education and associate artistic director and a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta, co-wrote a dramatic presentation with Mira Hirsch, director of education at Theatrical Outfit and member of The Temple.
Moses and three others will read “Nostra Aetate” excerpts, highlight the inspiring roles of the document’s architects, Pope St. John XXIII, Jesuit Cardinal Augustin Bea, Jewish scholar Jules Isaac and American Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and offer reflections from local committee members.
“It’s about the four of us representing a whole wide range of reflections and ideas on what ‘Nostra Aetate’ means to the two communities,” Moses said. “A lot of people trace it to a half-hour conversation between Jules Isaac and Pope John XXIII before Vatican II and how they were saying things needed to change. And the story goes that the pope was so moved by the conversation that he set things in motion.”
Moses finds the opportunity to blend the spiritual and theatrical “incredibly rewarding.”
Learning about Judaism deepens his appreciation of Catholicism, he said.
The document “really tried to reconcile past sins of the church,” Moses said.
“I’m excited to share with people the really visionary ideas that set this into motion and also to celebrate just how groundbreaking this effort has been and where we now head with this pope who is embodying these ecumenical ideas. It’s an exciting time to share it,” he said. “One of the great gifts of working on this is getting to research and delve into the actual text and context in which it was written and seeing clear evidence of the Holy Spirit working through this whole process.”
Actors will also depict Pope Francis addressing Israel’s chief rabbis in 2014 and read from Pope St. John Paul II’s message on the document’s 20th anniversary: “The Second Vatican Council and subsequent documents truly have this aim: that the sons and daughters of Abraham—Jews, Christians and Muslims—may live together and prosper in peace. And may all of us love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our might.”
Hirsch said that the command from Deuteronomy is the V’ahavta prayer in Jewish liturgy and will also be read in Hebrew.
“Both of our traditions are so full of ritual and family and have so many centuries-old traditions,” she said. “We need more focusing on Catholicism and Christianity as a whole as being built on Jewish teaching of the Old Testament.”
She noted the critical role of the church in fighting anti-Semitism.
“Certainly I think ‘Nostra Aetate’ did a great deal to minimize anti-Semitism not just by Catholics but among all Christians,” she said.
Interfaith progress more needed than ever
Committee member Msgr. Henry Gracz, Shrine pastor, recalled how growing up “we never went into any other place of worship—even Christian.”
While he’s worked for decades in interfaith relations he was enlightened to learn that “Nostra Aetate” was born through consultation with Jewish scholars.
“It was not just the church speaking out blindly on her own. It was a really good collaboration,” he said. “It’s really amazing to think it’s been 50 years of new relationship. … One of many things is there’s been such collaboration with the Jewish community, especially in the U.S., with matters of social justice. Many Jewish congregations and rabbis marched in the Civil Rights Movement alongside priests and nuns.”
Rabbi Scott Colbert of Temple Emanu-El, a program coordinator, stressed the importance of “Nostra Aetate” to the world’s 13.5 million Jews.
“The great friendship we see between Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka in Buenos Aires, these things just wouldn’t have been there 50 years ago,” he said. “There was no institutional dialogue. With the promulgation of ‘Nostra Aetate’ at Vatican II, the Catholic Church opened up to the world and there has been tremendous dialogue between not only Catholics and Jews but Catholic and other Protestant denominations, Catholics and Muslims and Catholics and Hindus.”
The Catholic-Jewish relationship in the Atlanta Archdiocese extends back decades, Archbishop Gregory said, to the era when the archdiocese was established and the Vatican Council was taking place. “It goes back to (Archbishop) Paul Hallinan who worked closely with a number of rabbis in the Atlanta area,” he said.
The anniversary committee will continue to encourage dialogue and partnership and set a goal to celebrate the relationship annually.
“Some ongoing (partnerships) will continue to thrive and we’ll continue to add value in terms of content and speakers to continue those ongoing programs,” the AJC’s Wilker said.
On an unplanned stop in Philadelphia, Pope Francis “stopped at St. Joseph University to view the installation honoring ‘Nostra Aetate.’ It says a lot about where we are and where we are going,” he said.
Pope Francis’ participation in the interfaith memorial service at the 9/11 Memorial in New York reminded faith leaders of the critical need to work together.
Archbishop Gregory said that violent religious extremists can’t be given the “last word” by the media and that congregations must spread the good news of their interfaith activities that are “treasures of a community.”
“It offers an opportunity to help other people to know more about one another in a respectful and collaborative way and not just for Catholics and Jews but for the whole Atlanta community.”