Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic Second Vatican Council, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) welcomed the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican’s Ambassador to the United Nations, along with other Jewish and Catholic interfaith experts for a special partnership event with the Archdiocese of New York, to highlight the significance of Nostra Aetate in transforming the Church’s relationship to the Jewish people.

The Papal Nuncio spoke at “50 Years After Nostra Aetate: Catholic, Jewish and Latino Relations in the Age of a Latin American Pope” at the 92nd Street Y to a diverse audience before a panel of distinguished experts on the subject took the stage. The event was live streamed on October 20 to Jewish institutions across the country, including in New York, South Carolina, Houston, and St. Louis.

Citing Pope Francis’s personal example in strengthening Catholic-Jewish relations, the Vatican Ambassador, His Excellency the Most Reverend Bernardito C. Auza, reflected on the importance of bringing different communities together.

Moderated by Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs, the panelists included Reverend Brian McWeeney, Director of Interreligious and Ecumenical Affairs at the Archdiocese of New York; Judith Banki, a pioneer of Catholic-Jewish dialogue and author of The Image of the Jews in Catholic Teaching, a memorandum which helped pave the way for the adoption of the historic Nostra Aetate; Rabbi Aaron Panken, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; and Reverend Jean-Pierre Ruiz, Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, St. John’s University, and Past President of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States.

The panelists addressed various topics including the fight against Christian persecution in the Middle East, Catholic-Jewish dialogue in relation to the Holocaust, and the need to transmit and explain the messages of Nostra Aetate to the masses, Jewish and Christian alike.

“Nostra Aetate has come to represent the ongoing efforts of the Catholic Church to confront the history of Christian anti-Judaism and to chart a new course in its relationship to the Jewish people,” Rabbi Sandmel said. “In the fifty years since its promulgation, the Church has developed a substantive and affirming theology of Jews and Judaism, which has been reflected in the actions of popes and other Vatican officials. The very fact that leaders of the Jewish and Catholic communities came to together to discuss the past, present and future of Jewish-Catholic relations shows the significant progress we have made in the realm of interfaith relations.”

Rabbi Sandmel added, “What was once unimaginable is now embedded in Catholic teaching. In a world in which religion is far too often a source of conflict and violence, the Jewish-Catholic relationship demonstrates that true reconciliation is feasible.”

Also this week, the ADL commended the Polish Episcopate for declaring, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, that anti-Semitism is a sin and for stressing the importance to the church of Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

The Polish Episcopate’s pastoral letter asserted that “anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism are sins against the love of thy neighbor” and that, “Christian-Jewish dialogue must never be treated as ‘the religious hobby,’” but “…should increasingly become part of the mainstream of pastoral work.”

Rabbi David Sandmel, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs, issued the following statement:

As we celebrate 50 years of progress in Catholic-Jewish relations since the Vatican II document called Nostra Aetate, it is heartening that the Polish Church saw fit to state unequivocally that anti-Semitism is a sin and that any effort to see Judaism as accursed must be rejected.

With Anti-Semitism surging in Europe, this statement by the Polish Church could not have been more timely and should be a moral example to leaders, institutions and individuals throughout the European continent.