Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Nostra Aetate: 50 Years

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's Declaration Nostra Aetate on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions. The anniversary has been marked in the Vatican by a General Audience with a particular inter-religious character. Pope Francis' address at that audience is here.

One of the things I find fascinating about Nostra Aetate is that, looking at the life of the Church since the Council, there are points where its teaching has been very vividly lived out, where its teaching has been transferred from the page, so to speak, into life on the part of the faithful. That teaching has itself been developed by the work of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, perhaps particularly its Dialogue and Proclamation published to mark the 25th anniversary of Nostra Aetate.
The nature of inter-religious dialogue, drawing on Dialogue and Proclamation, is very ably presented by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran in this lecture: Interreligious Dialogue - a risk or an opportunity? One of the very prophetic aspects of Nostra Aetate is its opening towards Islam, the significance of which could not have been foreseen in 1965.

It is important to read these texts, and to read them carefully, so that we gain a full understanding of the Church's teaching on inter-religious dialogue. It is a complex reality, and not to be dismissed in a glib or superficial way.

One locus where inter-religious dialogue has been lived out is in the charism of the Focolare Movement. The dialogue with believers of other religions is one of the series of dialogues of the movement, rooted in its spirituality of unity. And, in some of the most critical situations, it is a Focolare community or house which opens itself to receive refugees of all communities - as I write I recall accounts of a Focolare community in Lebanon which welcomed guests during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, which drove residents of the border areas between Lebanon and Israel to seek refuge further north.

Most strikingly, however, it is those Catholics, who at risk to themselves, remain to live among Muslim neighbours who live out this teaching on dialogue. The Martyrs of Tibhirine are indeed martyrs, that is witnesses, to this dialogue.

Perhaps we need to take rather more note of those circumstances where the teaching of the Council on inter-religious dialogue, as developed subsequently by the Pontifical Council, have been lived out in the Church, even to the point of martyrdom. And to take less note of those who would contest that teaching.

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