The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles was the setting Thursday night for an interfaith celebration of the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the milestone Vatican proclamation against anti-Semitism that held that Jews as a people were not responsible for the death of Jesus.
The event, with about 200 in attendance, was marked by prayers and songs in Hebrew and English, along with talks by Catholic and Jewish leaders.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) repudiated historic Christian teachings of contempt toward Jews and asserted the common spiritual heritage of Christians and Jews. He said the evening, sponsored by the Los Angeles archdiocese and the American Jewish Committee, “demonstrates more than any speeches can demonstrate, the enormous progress” that has been made in the 40 years in Jewish-Catholic relations.
Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California said: “It was a glorious celebration of Nostra Aetate -- how far we’ve come and the challenges that lie ahead.”
The speakers included Cardinal William Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore and a leader in Catholic-Jewish relations; Rabbi Michael Signer, a professor of Jewish culture at the University of Notre Dame; and Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the American Jewish Committee.
Keeler had observed the efforts in Rome that resulted in the document, which was issued in October 1965 under Pope Paul VI. He recalled the “remarkable show of unity” among Catholic leaders and said he remembered a cardinal announcing the vote on the proclamation: 2,223 bishops for and 88 against.
For Esther Romero, a senior at Sacred Heart High School in Lincoln Heights, the gathering offered the rare opportunity to question a panel that included two cardinals and three rabbis. She noted that Pope John Paul II had urged young Catholics to reach out to people of other faiths, and asked Signer if it would be helpful for them to reach out to Jewish counterparts to discuss any discrimination they might feel.
In response, Signer talked of his recent trip with Notre Dame graduate students to Nuremberg, the German city where Nazi war criminals were tried after World War II. Catholic, Jewish, German and Polish students and teachers had gathered there to discuss the Holocaust and reconciliation in its wake.
“It was a very, very painful process,” Signer said. It took time before the Jewish students began to trust their Catholic counterparts, he said.
“Nostra Aetate inspires us and also challenges us,” Signer added. “It’s going to require strength and courage.”
Talia Alberts, a senior representing Milken Community High School, a Jewish institution, called the evening “an amazing cultural exchange.”
“It’s so important for people of my age to share and participate,” she said.