SCoJeC were honoured to sponsor an interfaith symposium on 6th October jointly with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow, to mark the 45th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (“In our time”), the ground-breaking declaration by Pope John XXIII following the Second Vatican Council, that set the scene for a complete transformation of relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish Community. The guest speakers were Chief Rabbi David Rosen and Father John Pawlikowski, both leading members of the International Council of Christians and Jews.
That transformation also opened the door to dialogue here in Scotland. Welcoming the seventy participants to Giffnock Shul, Rabbi Moshe Rubin commented that it was only two weeks since he and other faith leaders had welcomed the Pope to Scotland. He said “it was truly remarkable that we were surrounded by so many people of different faiths who would in the past have felt threatened by each other. Much of that change is due to Nostra Aetate.”
Rabbi Rosen is International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and Honorary Advisor on Interfaith Relations to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and has the unusual distinction of having been awarded both a papal knighthood and a CBE for his contribution to the reconciliation between Catholics and Jews. Formerly Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Rabbi Rosen is the immediate past Chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, a broad-based coalition of Jewish organisations representing world Jewry to other religions.
Prof Pawlikowski is Director of the Centre for Catholic-Jewish Relations at the University of Chicago, and Professor of Social Ethics and chairs the Theology Committee of the International Council of Christians and Jews, as well as the United States Holocaust Memorial Council's Subcommittee on Church Relations. His awards include the Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion; the Distinguished Service Award from the American Jewish Committee, and a number of Polish awards.
Describing the revolution that Nostra Aetate brought about in how the Roman Catholic Church sees other faiths, and in particular the Jews, Rabbi Rosen said, “There is no parallel in human history for the transformation that has taken place. From being a community seen as cursed by God, deserving of suffering and condemned to wander the world homeless, to a relationship of respect as the ‘elder brother’ of the covenant – never broken or to be broken – is a blessed transformation in our times.”
It was this “monumental turnaround” that paved the way for Pope John Paul II to visit the main synagogue in Rome, and Christian and Jewish holy sites in Israel. “To see the Pope in tearful solidarity at Yad VaShem, and at the Western Wall – in prayerful respect for the Jewish tradition – asking God’s forgiveness for sins committed by Christians on Jews down the ages, was enormously powerful.”
Father John Pawlikoski emphasised that the change brought about by Nostra Aetate was not only felt at the top of both religions but also at the grass roots, and added that “Pope Benedict fundamentally reaffirmed the perspective of Nostra Aetate on the validity of the Jewish covenant in the present tense, and that Catholics look to Jewish tradition for inspiration.”
The day's proceedings were summed up by Archbishop Mario Conti, Chair of the Scottish Bishops Conference Committee for Inter-religious Dialogue. He said that Nostra Aetate was “a boost for the work we are doing developing understanding between different faiths”, and added that it places special emphasis on the relationship with the Jewish people. Rabbi Rosen commented that “the things that bring us together are more important than the things that keep us apart. The fact that Jews and Christians share revelation points to a mutual responsibility in terms of safeguarding the sanctity of life, the family, the integrity of creation, justice, and peace, which flow from God.”
The participants thoroughly enjoyed the seminar. Comments included, “fantastic – inspirational and honest. I learned a lot”, and “the speakers were outstanding. Kol Hakavod!”. Sister Isabel Smyth added, “they were very insightful, and positive about commitment to honest dialogue.”
Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, a former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Vice-President of the Council of Christians and Jews, who chaired the symposium, said, "It was an occasion of the first importance, and the two guest speakers made a powerful contribution to interfaith dialogue in Scotland that was much appreciated by all who heard them."
"This was an opportunity for us to celebrate our good relations with one of Scotland's most important faith communities," said SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski. "It was a great pleasure and privilege to mark the event what Rabbi Rosen called 'the Church's earth-shattering change of direction' that formed the foundation of those good relations with such eminent and well-informed speakers."
While in Scotland, Rabbi Rosen and Father Pawlikowski also addressed seminars at both Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities on "Recent Developments and New Challenges in Christian-Jewish Dialogue", and at the Lauriston Centre in Edinburgh on "Issues of Social Justice in Christian-Jewish Dialogue".