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Christians and Jews commemorate 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate


Fr Joe Pelle from Redemptoris Mater Seminary, with Seminary Rector Fr Michael Moore, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, centre, and Perth Hebrew Congregation Chief Rabbi David Freilich. Photo: Marco Ceccarelli

By Marco Ceccarelli

An event of major historical dimensions for Catholics and for Jews.

With these simple yet poignant words, President of the Perth Hebrew Congregation, Julian Sher, last week opened the commemoration of the Vatican II document on Christian-Jewish relations, Nostra Aetate (In Our Times).

Held at the Perth Hebrew Congregation Synagogue on the evening of 18 November, the event saw more than 500 Catholics and Jews of Perth unite in an amicable spirit of concord, respect and fraternity.

Perth Catholic Archbishop Timothy Costelloe and Chief Rabbi David Freilich led the official party and members of the two congregations in reflection and prayer, emphasising the historical significance of the event for two religions which share so much common ground.

Also present within the official party were Emeritus Chief Rabbi Dr Shalom Coleman; Lord Mayor of Perth, The Honourable Lisa Scaffidi; Chairman of the Council of Western Australian Jewry, David Denver; Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Kate Doust; Speaker of Legislative Assembly, Honourable Michael Sutherland – MLA; as well as the Rectors of Perth’s two seminaries, Fr Michael Moore, Redemptoris Mater, Seminary and Rev Mgr Kevin Long, St Charles’ Seminary.

The evening was also one of mixed emotions as the joy of commemorating a document that initiated the breakdown of so many barriers between Christianity and Judaism also brought to the surface the sorrow of the history of hostility between the two sides.

Furthermore, Rabbi Freilich’s impassioned prayer for the victims of the recent Paris terrorist attacks was an urgent reminder that more attention must be paid to the value of the sanctity of human life that both religions so firmly stand for.

Following the singing of Psalm 84 by the Redemptoris Mater seminarians and an equally soul-stirring rendition of Uvenocho Yomar by the Perth Jewish Male Choir and Perth Hebrew Congregation Choir, Archbishop Costelloe was invited to address the congregation.

Emphasising how privileged and honoured he felt to attend the momentous occasion, Archbishop Costelloe expressed a sincere hope that his presence would be a sign of the growing friendship and mutual respect developing between the Jewish and Catholic communities.

The Archbishop also referred to the history of strained relations between the two religions, making his position on the matter very clear.

“The long history of relationships between our two communities of faith has been a troubled one, to say the least. This evening marks another step, small though it might be, in the journey towards reconciliation. It is a journey which calls our two communities forward, never forgetting the past, but determined to make the future look very different,” he added.

Reflecting on the notion, present in the book of Genesis and mentioned in Nostra Aetate, that humans are created “in the image of God”, Archbishop Costelloe went on to interpret the encounter between the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, as the pivotal moment in which both truly live out their vocation of being made in the image of their Creator.

“There is a profound truth in all of this regarding what being human is really all about. It is a truth which is confirmed by our human experience, even though at times we can seem to be pushed by inner and outer forces in the opposite direction.

“Human beings, men and women, you and me - are made for communion, not isolation. We are made for inter-dependence, not independence. We are made in such a way as to need each other, not in such a way as to be able to stand on our own two feet and be alone. This is why marriage matters, why family matters, why community matters. It is why religious freedom, and religious tolerance, and religious sensitivity matter,” the Archbishop said.

In response, Rabbi Freilich applauded the Archbishop’s listing of shared Judeo-Christian values before expanding on the values of loving one’s fellow human being, forgiveness and compassion.

“What we see tonight is truly as it should be,” the Rabbi said.

“United in love, unified in forgiveness, and unified in the sanctity of life. Despite the theological differences that we may have, we share common values, values which the world needs so urgently today. I hope and pray that what we are doing tonight, our two religions coming together, the one which at present is numerically the largest in the world and the one which is the smallest numerically in the world, will show truly what religion stands for,” he added.

Rabbi Freilich went on to mention how the pontificates of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict and Francis did much to raise Christianity’s awareness towards its Jewish roots.

In particular, he referred to John Paul II’s description of Jewish people as “elder brothers”, Benedict’s reference to the Hebrew people as “fathers in our faith” and Pope Francis’ strong friendship with an Argentinian Rabbi, as examples of a developing reconciliation.

“Whatever our religion, or faith, we should be proud. We must portray at its highest that love of God is love of humanity. The need is growing for the enriching vision of the dignity of every human being, which is an idea at the heart of Christianity and Judaism.

“Tonight’s gathering shows the truth, this taught not in theology, but by personal example. Tonight’s gathering is a testimony to a loving God, through humanity, harmony love and peace. I am proud to say that, in WA, the spirt of Nostra Aetate is shown, not just simply in words or ceremonies, but by the Catholic Church through deed,” the Rabbi said.

Filled with other musical interludes, one of which (Psalm 23) was sung by a small choir form Majella Catholic Primary School, the event concluded with a video presentation of The Suffering of the Innocents - a symphony by the Orchestra and Quire of the Neocatechumenal Way.

Composed in 2012 by founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, Kiko Argüello, The Suffering of the Innocents pays homage to the Holocaust victims and was offered to the Jewish people as a sign of love and reconciliation.

In particular, it creates a parallel between the suffering of the Virgin Mary under the cross and the Jewish mothers who witnessed their children perish in the death camps.

As the video concluded, the Redemptoris Mater Seminarians led the congregation in singing the Shema Israel – a final gesture of unity in prayer under the One God of two great religions.