Catholic, Jewish leaders launch statement on 50 years of friendship

Bishops inter-religious relations commission chairman Archbishop Christopher Prowse. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Bishops inter-religious relations commission chairman Archbishop Christopher Prowse. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“We cannot be Catholic without you,” Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra-Goulburn said, speaking to representatives from the Jewish and Catholic communities of Sydney on 16 March at the launch of a joint statement of friendship and understanding.

Archbishop Prowse, the chairman of the bishops commission for inter-faith relations, was the last speaker at an event at Mary MacKillop Place, North Sydney, giving brief remarks on the warmth and cordiality of their relations, some six months after the signing of the document at the Great Synagogue of Sydney on 28 October.

The Catholic Weekly gave extensive coverage of that event, at the time, coming at the end of a conference to mark 50 years since Nostra Aetate (‘in our times’), a landmark declaration of the Second Vatican Council in which the Church denounced a long history of anti-Semitism and recognised that truths could be found in other religions.

“[Nostra Aetate] was the first time in our Catholic history … in our 2000 years that we presented Judaism positively. For that, I have to say, we are very sorry it took so long”, Archbishop Prowse – a signatory to the statement – said, noting that St John Paul II was the first pope since St Peter to visit a synagogue – the Great Synagogue of Rome on 13 April, 1986.

“There is a sense of regret, yet at the same time there is a sense that we are living in Nostra Aetate times.”

(Pope Benedict visited the same synagogue on 17 January, 2010; and Pope Francis, on 17 January, 2016.)

The joint statement commits to ongoing dialogue and “to shared and faithful witness to the world of our belief in the rights and dignity of all as beloved children of God”, celebrating “the mutual understanding and respect that has grown into deep friendship between us over the last 50 years”.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP – a signatory to the statement who was unable to attend the North Sydney event due to illness – issued a message for the occasion, which was read by executive director of the archdiocese’ Commission of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Sr Giovanni Farquer RSJ.

Sr Giovanni Farquer Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Sr Giovanni Farquer RSJ (third from left) among conference participants. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“We have come so far, but have a long way to go,” the archbishop wrote in the message.

“We know there is much to celebrate in and since Nostra Aetate. The 50th Anniversary Commemorative event rekindled within us the expectation that our communities will actively bear witness to our belief that every human being is an inviolable image and beloved child of God.

“[The joint statement] testifies to our resolve that the legacy of that Interfaith Conference, including the fruits of the scholarly input and the discussion between the participants, would be disseminated amongst our Communities and acted upon in our institutions.”

One of the principal drafters of the statement and executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, spoke of the friendships which had developed between Jews and Catholics involved in inter-faith relations, praising Nostra Aetate as “one of those rare kinds of revolutions that immediately makes the world a better place”.

Another signatory to the joint statement and the president of the Jewish Board of Deputies, Jeremy Spinak, offered warm wishes to the archbishop during his ongoing recovery, and praised the work of Sr Giovanni – “a great friend” to Jewish community.

“[The document says] in our time; in ‘our’ time. We have a responsibility, and that responsibility continues,” Mr Spinak said, pointing to good works which Jewish and Catholic people could accomplish together, for social justice, interfaith harmony and the rights of refugees.

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