Pope Francis marked the 50th anniversary of the turning point in the Catholic Church's relations with other religions by calling Wednesday for greater interfaith collaboration in the face of religious extremism.
Francis devoted his usual Wednesday general audience catechism lesson to the importance of the “Nostra Aetate” declaration, which revolutionized the church's relations in particular with Jews.
The statement “In Our Time” was one of the most important documents to emerge from the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the church into the modern world. It said Christ's death could not be attributed to Jews as a whole, recognized the shared spiritual patrimony between Christians and Jews and decried all forms of anti-Semitism.
Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were in the VIP seats in St. Peter's Square for the special audience and were treated to a meet-and-greet session with the pope after it ended.
In his remarks, Francis said the declaration had transformed Catholic-Jewish relations from “indifference and opposition to collaboration and good will. From enemies and strangers we became friends and brothers.”
He decried that the rise of terrorism had fomented suspicion and condemnation about religion in general. He said that while no religion is immune from fundamentalists, the world must look instead at the “positive values” that religions promote, especially in caring for the neediest.
“We can walk together, taking care of one another and of creation,” he said.
At the end of the audience, he urged everyone in the square – “according to your own religious tradition” - to pray together in silence. “We ask the Lord that he makes us more brothers among ourselves, and more servants to our neediest brothers,” he said.