During his apostolic trip to the United States, Pope Francis made an unscheduled visit to bless a statue in Philadelphia.

The statue is “Synagoga and Ecclesia” depicting female figures representing synagogue and church in respectful dialogue each holding sacred texts of Torah and Gospels.

Pope Francis, accompanied by his close friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires, viewed the statue, which is an artistic repudiation of renderings centuries old showing the Christian “Ecclesia” wearing a crown in triumph and the Jewish “Synagoga” blindfolded with a broken staff.

In affirmation of mutual respect between Christians and Jews, the inscription of the Philadelphia statue reads: “There exists a rich complementarity between the Church and the Jewish people that allows us to help one another mine the riches of God’s word.”

Indeed, the religious teachings and cultural traditions of thousands of years of Judaism and Christianity have much to teach each other from the past to the present and into the future.

The full name of the Philadelphia statue – “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” – honors the 1965 Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate. (Nostra Aetate is Latin for “In our time.”)

Nostra Aetate marked a sea change in the theological relationship between Christians and Jews that corresponded with similar Protestant declarations before and after 1965.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) has been proud to partner in commemorations in Fargo and Sioux Falls and looks forward to a grand celebration on December 2nd in conjunction with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

On October 10, 2015, the JCRC in partnership with the Fargo Diocese and Temple Beth El hosted a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate in Fargo, ND.  Father Luke Meyer, Pastor of the UND Thomas Aquinas Newman Center, who spoke at the event remarked: “One hundred years ago, or just fifty years ago, we would not be having this gathering today.  It is good to be here.  The relationship of the Catholic-Jewish relations has changed dramatically during the decades of the 20th century, and continues welcome new developments into the 21st century.” Here are a few photos from the commemoration:


Rabbi Janeen Kobrinsky of Temple Beth El in Fargo


Steve Hunegs with Father Luke Meyer


Most Reverend John Folda, Catholic Bishop of the Fargo Diocese

On October 27, 2015, the JCRC in partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls and Mt. Zion Congregation hosted a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate in Sioux Falls, SD.  Dr. Chris Burgwald, Director of Adult Discipleship and Evangelization for the Diocese of Sioux Falls spoke at the event and noted: “And despite its brevity, it truly has been a transformational text, particularly with regard to that relationship. St. John Paul II described Nostra Aetate as ‘an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as a word of Divine Wisdom.’”  Dr. Murray Haar, Professor of Religion and Jewish studies at Augustana University, also addressed the audience and raised interesting questions about unresolved issues involving Catholic liturgy and teaching: “We can and do unite around the expectation that God is not finished with God’s work and we wait together for that completion albeit with different accounts of what will occur at that time.  If the story keeps being told again and again and again the same way with no explanation week after week, the results have the inherent potential of once again functioning as a source for anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.”  Here is a photo from the commemoration:


From L to R: Dr. Murray Haar, Dr. Chris Burgwald, and The Most Reverend Paul Swain, Bishop of the Diocese of Sioux Falls

On Wednesday, December 2, 2015, the JCRC is proud to partner with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to host Amy-Jill Levine, University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, and Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences.  For more information about the event on December 2nd, please contact Margaret Slawin, Director of Office of Development and Stewardship at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

In May of 2014, Pope Francis made a historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land and I wrote a commentary with Father Erich Rutten, Officer for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which was published in the Pioneer Press.

Meeting in the shadows of the Holocaust 20 years after the end of World War II, the Second Vatican Council addressed anti-Semitism in the document as well as the Catholic Church’s relationship with Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Towards Judaism, Nostra Aetate: condemned anti-Semitism; repudiated the canard of deicide against the Jewish people; affirmed the ongoing Jewish covenantal relationship with God; affirmed the shared religious and spiritual legacy of Jews and Christians; and called for respectful dialogue and collaborative theological study between Jews and Christians.

Pope Francis – who co-authored “On Heaven and Earth” with Rabbi Skorka – has referenced the great upward trajectory of Jewish-Catholic and Jewish-Christian relations as “one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council” and a “genuine gift of God.”

In observance of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a special program in Minneapolis will bring together Jews and Catholics today to celebrate their common spiritual bonds and religious legacy. Speakers from both faiths will talk about the significance of this groundbreaking Vatican II document.

Nostra Aetate was a landmark document in the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people. We look forward to celebrating what this text has meant for our relationship, both globally and locally, and how we can continue to build on it into the future.

Between Catholics and Jews, Pope John Paul II would be the first pope to visit a synagogue; recognize Israel; issue an encyclical on the Holocaust; and pray at the Western Wall on a pilgrimage to Israel in 2000.

Indeed, Pope Francis – like all of his predecessors since the Nostra Aetate “regularly and unambiguously” denounces anti-Semitism in the words of the Anti-Defamation League.

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