Last month the Church both locally and internationally marked the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council Declaration, Nostra Aetate (In our Time), addressing the Catholic Church’s relation with non-Christian religions and Jews. Much of what has transpired in close relations with the Jewish people and other world religions over the past 50 years can be traced back to this short 624 word document.
Pope Francis marked the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate on the actual date of the promulgation of the declaration on Wednesday, Oct. 28, dedicating his weekly general audience in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square to interreligious dialogue. The reading at the audience came from Nostra Aetate followed by remarks from Pope Francis. Present at the audience close to the pope’s chair were representatives of various religions, whom he greeted with great joy. At the end of the audience the pope asked each guest to pray in silence according to his or her religious tradition, asking the Lord to make them more united and greater servants of the needy in the world.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan marked the Diocese of Camden’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate by delivering an address at the Shabbat Service at Temple Emanuel Synagogue in Cherry Hill on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the synagogue and the 40th anniversary of Rabbi Jerome David’s ministry of service to the Temple. He joined Superintendent Mary Boyle and other dignitaries from the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Goodwin Holocaust Museum and Education Center to address the all-important efforts in our Catholic Schools in the diocese to continue to implement and expand Holocaust education.
In his remarks Bishop Sullivan laid out the foundation of why Catholics since the groundbreaking document Nostra Aetate have been involved in a productive dialogue with the Jewish people. He shared with the congregants the teaching of Nostra Aetate that spoke of the Jewish people, quoting “The church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle (Paul) about his kinsmen: ‘Theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the Law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh.’” He spoke of St. John Paul II’s call in “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” saying, “St. John Paul II charged Catholic educators to help our students understand the implications of the Shoah and the role of the Church in the events. The pope called on Catholics to repent for sins of commission and for sins of omission for the centuries of negative teachings about Judaism. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States released guidelines for Catholic educators to teach about the Holocaust.”
In reference to Holocaust studies in our schools, Bishop Sullivan said, “To this end the Schools Office of the Diocese of Camden, under the supervision and guidance of Mary Boyle, superintendent of schools, and Dr. Bill Watson, our director of curriculum, we have been systematically implementing Holocaust education in our Catholic schools here in the diocese. We are committed to equipping our students to be leaders in the fight against anti-Semitism, bias, bigotry and intolerance of any kind. I have promulgated that this be part of the diocesan curriculum guidelines and as such expect them to be taught in our schools at various levels.”
Bishop Sullivan went on to enumerate the inclusion of Holocaust studies in our schools’ theology, history, Catholic social teachings, world literature, English and language arts, and other proficiencies in our school system. He said that in our professional development for principals and teachers, several of our educators have attended “Echoes and Reflections” training in recent summers, and “that we are expanding our efforts so that more teachers have the most recent resources and skills in integrating Holocaust education into as many courses as possible. Helen Kirschbaum, director of the Goodwin Holocaust Museum and Education Center and Dr. Paul Winkler, director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education have been helpful on many levels as we increase our efforts in Holocaust education in our schools.”
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.