Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Observing the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate

By Anthony Cirelli, Ph.D.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, which is the Catholic Church’s Magna Carta for interreligious dialogue. Catholics, especially those who were raised before the Second Vatican Council, will note how this particular document announced in unambiguous language the Church’s absolute rejection of the charge of deicide against the Jewish people while also, and significantly, asserting that Jews are not “cut off” from God and “accursed” forever – a point thus signifying that the Covenant between God and Israel was not revoked (also referred to as “supercessionism”). Catholics will also note that the document just as importantly ventured to dramatically overturn the narrative that for centuries cast a long shadow of suspicion and condemnation over all non-Christian religions when it declared: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” (NA 2) In his general audience this morning, Pope Francis echoed the commitment of each pope since the Council to the tenets of Nostra Aetate, when he declared that the Church, “while remaining faithful to the truth of the gospel, namely, that the offer of salvation has its origin in Jesus alone, nevertheless is and will remain forevermore open to dialogue with all religions.” In fact, without the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, events such as the still-fresh-in-our mind and powerfully emotive multi-religious prayer event that was convened by Pope Francis at the Ground Zero Memorial in New York, would likely never have happened.

It would be helpful for all Catholics to reflect on this day of celebration that the most fruitful dimension of Nostra Aetate—one, by the way, that is also continuously referred to by Pope Francis—is the view that dialogue (especially the dialogue of action) can contribute so much, perhaps more than anything else, to insuring greater understanding, affection and esteem between peoples of differing beliefs. And, in doing so, it can contribute to establishing the kind of peace that secular leaders and institutions simply cannot achieve on their own. But even more practically, Nostra Aetate’s appeal to ever greater collaboration between the followers of the world’s religions finds with Pope Francis a simple blueprint for immediate, local, and personal implementation of the rudiments of dialogue: namely, that our collaboration can take the shape of working together in our own neighborhoods and communities to identify and address the needs of the most vulnerable; in doing so, we plant the kinds of seeds that foster an intimacy of mutual esteem and respect that, for Catholics, make real the vision of interreligious harmony called for in Nostra Aetate.

At the end of the day, one might opine, Nostra Aetate is a prophetic text in that it rightly forecasts the relationship between dialogue and healing – it is, in short, a prescription for healing. And each moment of each day, since the foundation of human history, human beings have, in varying degrees, been in need of healing from all kinds of brokenness. By exhorting us to move beyond the violence and brutality (and stupidity!) that so often characterized the past relations between religions, Nostra Aetate offers all of us simple, yet profound and inescapable, recipe for healing and hope when it urges “its sons and daughters” to embark with intention (i.e., with a disposition that listens to learn, forgives to sow seeds of peace, shows compassion and mercy to establish ties of love) on the path of dialogue. And so, we rejoice at the last 50 years in which so many within the Church have accompanied non-Christians on the path of reconciliation that is dialogue. They have planted incredible seeds of possibility for all of us; and now we are beckoned to take up this mission and help bring the seeds to sprout in the light of God’s powerful love and mercy and compassion which we bear as His sons and daughters. Thank you, Council Fathers, for Nostra Aetate—50 years old today!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

U.S. Bishops Embrace Pope Francis' World Youth Day Invitation

By Paul Jarzembowki

On the heels of his apostolic visit to the United States, Pope Francis has issued an invitation to youth and young adults around the world to join him next year in Krakow, Poland, from July 26 to 31, 2016, for the thirty-first annual World Youth Day celebration.

“We eagerly anticipate the next great encounter with the universal Church,” said Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. “Having just celebrated with Pope Francis in Philadelphia the beauty of marriage and family life, World Youth Day is an opportunity to celebrate the gift of young people to the Church and to the world.”

During his early October visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, Kraków Cardinal Stansilaus Dziwisz invited all youth and young adults of North America to World Youth Day. Pictured below, Cardinal Dziwisz was greeted by a delegation of young people at a statue dedicated to Saint John Paul II, for whom he served as private secretary during his pontificate.

The cardinal said during his trip: "I take this opportunity of my visit to American soil to invite the young people of the United States and Canada to the 2016 World Youth Day in Kraków, the city of John Paul II, the place of Divine Mercy. Dear young friends: we want to share with you our place, our culture. But we also want you to share with us the enthusiasm of your faith. We are very much looking forward to these days..."

Over 10,000 young people and 60 bishops from the United States have already registered for World Youth Day, with many more expected in the months to come.

“The pilgrimage of World Youth Day, in the Jubilee of Mercy, will offer a personal invitation to every pilgrim to open the door of his or her heart ever more fully to the liberating, forgiving and healing power of Christ’s love. And when we are blessed with the gift of Mercy, we will also receive the courage to bring mercy to those around us,” said Most Rev. Frank Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport and USCCB World Youth Day Episcopal Liaison.

The statement issued by the Holy Father connects the World Youth Day experience with the Jubilee of Mercy, encouraging young people to reflect on the Scriptures (in particular the Beatitudes, Luke 15, Leviticus 5, and Matthew 25), the Cross, and the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom the bishops of the United States have designated as one of the primary spiritual patrons of World Youth Day.

For each of the first seven months of 2016, Pope Francis asks young people to engage in at least one corporal and one spiritual work of mercy to prepare themselves for World Youth Day, praying for strength with St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kowalska and joining in their prayer for Divine Mercy. He also speaks of the great power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a way to prepare for the journey.

Bishop Caggiano noted: “There is one story in the Pope’s message that I found deeply touching. It is when the Holy Father relates the story of going to confession at seventeen years of age and meeting a priest who inspired him. The Pope speaks of feeling a desire to open his heart to confession. It is the image of opening our hearts to Christ that best summarizes the Jubilee of Mercy and the World Youth Day celebration in Krakow. The Lord is standing at the door of our hearts, knocking gently with His love, asking to come in and heal what is broken, hurt, angry or confused in our lives.”

The USCCB continues to develop resources and spiritual tools to assist pilgrims and leaders in their journeys towards World Youth Day, which can be found online at

In an effort to ensure no young person is excluded from this journey, the USCCB has also issued guides for parishes to gather youth and young adults who are unable to travel to Krakow next summer. Details of these resources will also be shared on Twitter and Facebook.


Paul Jarzembowski serves as the national coordinator for World Youth Day USA and is the assistant director for youth and young adult ministries in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Witness for Peace: A Meditation on the Multi-Religious Gathering with Pope Francis

By John W. Crossin, OSFS

My experience of the Multi-Religious Gathering, from my arrival in New York City on Wednesday morning until the close of the Gathering on Friday, was an experience of healing. I felt the presence of the healing Spirit from beginning to end.

Healing is a process that has many steps. Sometimes they are surprising to me. As I came to the Memorial on Wednesday I ran into a friendly security official who led me through to the Museum and showed me highlights. He told me that he knew many of the first responders who had died. It took him years to come to the site. I felt that he still had ‘his moments.’

On the next day on the way to the rehearsal, I happened to meet a woman whose family member had died on 9/11. She finally came across the country to grieve at the site. Perhaps this unexpected encounter was one of the ‘accidents’ of the Spirit. As we both left I promised her my prayers.

A chaplain was with her. He happened to be present at the World Trade Center on September 11th. Now he accompanies survivors and families as part of his ministry. We shared how the Spirit sometimes calls us to ministries unexpectedly.

On Friday after the Gathering with Pope Francis, I talked to a New York area priest I know who had witnessed many of the September 11th events directly. When he received his invitation to the Gathering, he decided it was time to enter the healing process more deeply by finally visiting the Memorial. He came Friday morning to encounter the past and thus become more open to the future.

Healing can be individual and communal. When I entered Foundation Hall, members of the varied communities gathered were conversing together with animation. They were renewing the relationships that are key to interreligious understanding and peacebuilding. I saw a number of my own dialogue partners in the crowd.

What I did not expect was the quiet. The whole group became subdued as the time of Pope Francis arrival drew near. This group of religious leaders became almost silent. Later in the program silence returned as Pope Francis invited each to pray in his or her own way. I found the Spirit in the conversation and in the silence. My own memories became more tranquil.

The healing of communal and individual memories is a significant Witness for Peace. I believe that this Multi-Religious Gathering provided all of us, wherever we are, an opportunity to recommit personally to being agents for peace.


 Father John W. Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis DeSales and executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.