“Despite 50 years of ‘Nostra Aetate,’” the Second Vatican Council’s document on interreligious relations, “we still don’t know each other well enough,” said French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Speaking May 19 about Catholic-Muslim relations, Cardinal Tauran added, “Most of the problems we face are problems of ignorance.” Cardinal Tauran made his remarks in a keynote address at the conference “‘Nostra Aetate’: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue With Jews and Muslims,” held at The Catholic University of America, Washington, and co-sponsored by the university’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. The conference was being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the document’s promulgation Oct. 28, 1965. For Christians entering into dialogue with Muslims, Cardinal Tauran said, they need to understand that Islam is at the same time a religion, a political system and a civilization. “It’s a very complex reality,” he added.
Meantime, a Muslim leader had this to say about Nostra Aetate:
Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, said the church document links Catholics, Muslims and Jews by urging them to “promote the values” in their sacred texts. Today, he said the goal should be “to see ‘Nostra Aetate’ fully reinforced at every level.” The document, promulgated Oct. 28, 1965, by Blessed Paul VI, has inspired decades of interfaith dialogue, which Syeed described as something that “doesn’t diminish our faith but helps us build an understanding with others.” Put another way: “We keep our identity but work together,” he said. Syeed also noted the time frame when the document was being put together, saying it occurred at the height of the civil rights movement in the United States and when there was a concentrated effort to start Islamic centers and Islamic student groups on university campuses in the U.S. During these “humble beginnings” of Islamic life in the United States, he said the “Catholic Church acted as a big brother” in its understanding of a religious minority.