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WESTON —Forty years ago this Oc-tober, Pope Paul VI signed the document “Nostra Aetate,”effectively transforming the relationship between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religious faiths. “Nostra Aetate”calls for Catholic outreach to other religions and the union of all peoples in accordance with the precept that “God created humankind in His image.”
In recognition of this turning point in Church history, an interfaith celebration was held at St. Julia Parish in Weston Nov. 17.
Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley began the event speaking on the significance of the document. Following the archbishop’s address, representatives of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish communities offered remarks.
The choir of St. Malachy Church in Burlington, led by director Ryan Murphy on the piano, provided a somber and satisfying musical element to the event.
During his address, Archbishop O’Malley said, “‘Nostra Aetate’is an invitation and a challenge to all who’ve come here to pray and reflect.”He used the parable of the good Samaritan to illustrate how “we must look for goodness where we least expect to find it.”
“Believers must feel an affinity for each other as we strive to make time for God and ourselves,”he said, adding, “It is impossible to love God who we do not see if we cannot love neighbors whom we do see.”
In her remarks Hsui-Li Chen, vice president of the Massachusetts Buddhist Association, laughingly admitted that upon receiving the invitation to the affair, she “did not know what ‘Nostra Aetate’is [and] like every other 21st century person, went to the Internet”to learn about it.
Quoting the Dalai Lama, Chen said that all religions pursue the same goals, and therefore, although “the means are different, the ends are the same.”
Ravinder Sakhuja, national president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education, explained that in Hinduism, there are “not a million gods, [but that] there is only one God and that God is in you.”
“At the bottom of the truth is that we all have one God and we can reach it [so] we are all equal,”Sakhuja said.
In his remarks Rabbi William Hamilton of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston noted, “Among the Jews who are here tonight there is nobody who does not know very, very well what ‘Nostra Aetate’is, what it means and what the Second Vatican Council did to reverse the course of two millennia of history.”
“The cataclysmic impact of the Second Vatican Council …speaks to the power of authenticity, the power of respect and bridge building and the relationship between self and others,”he continued.
“This is something that the world has needed for 40 years and as we go forward to the next 40 years …will be needed more than ever before.”
Rabbi Hamilton went on to speak on the theme of responsibility which he illustrated through four biblical stories. He used the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his arc, and the Tower of Babel to illustrate the values of personal, moral, collective and logical responsibility, respectively.
“God wants us to accept responsibility in the part of our lives that is hardest to work on,”Rabbi Hamilton said.
“‘Nostra Aetate’was a tremendously powerful act of taking responsibility by the Catholic Church,”he added.
Abdul Cader Asmal, from the Islamic Council of New England, discussed “Nostra Aetate”in the context of modern society, particularly regarding the tragedy of Sept. 11th and its aftermath on the Muslim community.
“On that fateful day a cult of heretical Muslims with a litany of grievances against the current world order brought tragedy into the lives of thousands who lost their loved ones, tarnished the image of the religion they claimed to espouse, and demonized over a billion of its adherents,”he said.
Asmal said that spirit of “Nostra Aetate”had a great impact on his community because, while many Muslims felt a backlash from American society in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, they received understanding from the Catholic Church.
Asmal said, “Since then, despite the remorseless efforts of special interest, religious, political and media cabals to exploit the tragedy of 9/11 to advance their own agendas at the expense of Muslims, the Catholic Church has remained steadfastly on the side —and at the side —of Muslims.”
As he concluded his re-marks with “a Koranic verse that speaks to the issue of our religious diversity and echoes the sentiments expressed in ‘Nostra Aetate’,”Asmal said, “The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you differ.”
At the conclusion of the evening Karim Khudairi, also of the Islamic Council, presented Archbishop O’Mal-ley with a copy of the Koran in commemoration of the occasion.
Speaking to The Pilot following the gathering, Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley called the event “a wonderful way for us to reflect on the challenge of “Nostra Aetate”and invite believers to work together for a better world and greater solidarity among religions.”