For Catholics who came of age after the Second Vatican Council it can be difficult to appreciate the epochal shift in Catholic-Jewish relations represented by the council’s “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (“Nostra Aetate”). A statement released by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews on Dec. 10 not only recalls and clarifies these significant changes in the church’s teaching but also highlights how far the delicate relationship between Christianity and Judaism has come in the 50 years since the council.
The new document, “The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable,” invites readers to study and reflect on the profound but ultimately mysterious interdependence of God’s covenant with Israel and the Church of Christ. Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told America that he found two aspects of the statement to be exceptional. First, it formally declares that “the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed toward Jews.” Second, the document echoes previous statements in denouncing anti-Semitism in “even the slightest perceptible forms,” but it is the first to call for the church and the Jewish people to combat together such discrimination and other injustices in concrete ways.
On Jan. 17, Italy’s annual day for Christian-Jewish dialogue, Pope Francis will demonstrate his and the church’s deep affection for the Jewish people by visiting the Great Synagogue in Rome. The Vatican statement calls on all Christians to follow the pope’s lead in walking with our Jewish brothers and sisters, reminding readers that texts “cannot replace personal encounters and face-to-face dialogues.”