The Catholic Church Changes Gears on Interfaith Relations

By Gabriel Weinstein

Last week a group of twenty cantors from the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) serenaded Catholic officials in Rome with rousing renditions of Adon Olam and other Jewish liturgical melodies.  The concert was a part of the Interfaith Information Center’s conference on Catholic-Jewish relations. Monsignor Renzo Giuliano, priest of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, said it was “very important to be here [at the concert] together and praising our god.”  While Jewish-Catholic relations have been steadily improving for decades, a new Catholic push to mend ties with Muslims is pushing the Church’s Jewish priority to second place.

For thousands of years Catholic Jewish relations were marked by antagonism and contempt. For centuries, central tenants of Catholic doctrine included Supercessionism, the belief God rejected Jews and anointed Christians as his chosen people, and Translated Responsibility, which holds Jews accountable for Jesus’ death. From the medieval era until the 19th century, the Catholic Church endorsed an array of discriminatory proposals against Jewish residents.

Catholics’ relations with their other monotheistic peer, Muslims, were marked by similar confrontational episodes. When Islam emerged in the eighth century, Catholic scholars were quick to pronounce the new doctrine as heresy. Catholics’ initial dismissal of Muslim doctrine foreshadowed the bloody Catholic crusades against Muslim rule of Palestine in the medieval era.

By the early 1960s the Vatican grew tired of having frayed relations with other religious groups and reformulated their millennia old interfaith policy. In 1965 the Church issued Nostra Aetate, their seminal document on interfaith relations. Nostra was the first time the Vatican advocated for interfaith dialogue between Catholics and other religions. One of the Vatican’s primary objectives with Nostra was to rekindle its relationship with Jews.  It is no coincidence that the section of Nostra discussing Jewish relations is the longest. Nostra renounced charges of Jewish deicide, acknowledged Jews’ covenant with God and decried anti-Semitism.  Some Church officials challenged Nostra’s detailed discussion of Jewish relations and were joined by Arab countries in protest. However, the Vatican’s insistence on redefining Catholic-Jewish relations cemented the section discussing Judaism.

Nostra also discusses relations with Muslims, acknowledging the frazzled history of Muslim-Christian relations, but noting that both view Jesus as a prophet and the Virgin Mary as a holy figure.  The Vatican pleaded in Nostra with “all [Muslims and Christians] to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding.”

In the 45 years since Nostra Aetate Catholic-Jewish relations have remained stable.  The Church has issued a series of documents on Jewish-Catholic relations ranging from 1975’s  Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (No. 4) to 1998’s We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah. Three popes have visited Israel since 1964, with Pope Benedict XVI making the most recent visit in May 2009.

But all that may be changing.  According to National Catholic Reporter John L. Allen Jr., dialogue with Muslims is now the Vatican’s most important interfaith priority, perhaps displacing the importance of the Jewish-Catholic relationships.  The bulging global Muslim population, increasing Catholic presence in Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East are some of the major factors fueling the detente.

One of the main priorities of the Catholic-Muslim interfaith effort is securing freedom of religion for Catholic minorities in Muslim dominated countries. The Vatican would like to see the religious freedom enjoyed by Muslims in the West extended to Catholic minorities in countries with large Muslim populations.  For example, Pope Benedict has maintained steadfast support for Asia Bibi, a jailed Pakistani Christian who faces death for criticizing the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

The prioritization of Muslim relations has ushered in a change in the Vatican’s demeanor towards its Jewish relations.  Whereas the Vatican consistently sought to apologize for past grievances against Jews when Jewish interfaith relations were the priority, now Catholics no longer worry about critiquing their Jewish peers or voicing their displeasure.  For example, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent praise of Pope Pius XII has upset Jewish Holocaust survivors, as many believe Pope Pius could have done more to rescue Jews from the Nazi regime.

But Allen states that the Vatican’s Muslim interfaith efforts are redefining its interfaith relationships in a broader way. Catholic interfaith efforts have moved from “interreligious dialogue” to “intercultural dialogue” which emphasizes shared understanding of cultural issues such as religion’s role in civic life and eliminating poverty.  Hopefully, the Church can avoid the trap of swapping out good Jewish relations for good Muslim relations by focusing on the important cultural and humanitarian issues important to all three monotheistic faiths.

One response to “The Catholic Church Changes Gears on Interfaith Relations

  1. I believe in Yahweh, only in Yahweh the living God of Israel. And that is what Jesus also wants from us. Jesus never claimed he is the messiah and he never wanted to be worshiped as son of God or God. To make Jesus the messiah Christians are interpreting word of God wrongly. The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-15 is not about Jesus. The virgin mentioned in the prophecy is not a woman ( not a human being) and the child also is not a human baby.( not a baby human being) Christians are wrongly interpreting those words to make Jesus the child mentioned in that prophecy. Thus from very beginning to the end (from birth of Jesus to his death – from virgin birth to sacrifice on the cross) Christians are interpreting Bible words wrongly.

    In short do you know what the work Christians are doing? Christians are trying to replace the name of Jesus in the place of God Yahweh. Remember Yahweh says,” They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship.”. Baal is the son of God El and according to the belief of Baal worshipers he also is a son of God resurrected from death like Jesus.

    In a short comment it is not possible to explain all these things. I have written a different interpretation for Gospels, it not yet published, I shall sent it to you for your examination and if you find it worth to be published would you please help me to publish it.

    Remember Jesus had warned,” “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ, ‘ and will deceive many.” ( Mathew 24:4)
    Unfortunately Christians are that “ many “ who took name of Christ for themselves and call themselves “ Christians” and in the name of Jesus Christians are preaching Jesus is the Christ, son of God and God and those who believe Jesus is son of God will be saved. But you see scripture clearly says,” But Yahweh is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” ( Jeremiah 10:10) “But blessed is the man who trusts in Yahweh the God, whose confidence is in him” (Jeremiah 17:7) Yahweh says,” there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me”Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.(Isaiah 45:21-23)

    But Christians say about Jesus ,” Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts4:12) Yahweh says ,” By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear” (Isaiah 45:23) But St.Paul says, “God exalted him (Jesus) to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. At the same time Christians say father and son are one and Jesus is that God and king, in essence replacing father Yahweh with son Jesus. Who is to be believed Yahweh or Christians?

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