To celebrate the occasion Monday, the Dionysia Center of Rome, located in the Villa Piccolomini Renaissance Palace, organized a commemorative day with rabbis, theologians and experts in interreligious dialogue.
The celebration combined moments of reflection with Jewish and Christians songs interpreted by Antonella Ruggiero and David De Or, winner of a prize this year for best singer in Israel. Presiding over the event was Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
Cardinal Kasper explained how Vatican II was very conscious of the horror of the Holocaust, and said that "Nostra Aetate" (In Our Time) marked a total and irreversible turn.
He insisted "there is no place in the Catholic Church for anti-Semitism," and referred to the Jews as "our elder brothers in the faith," as John Paul II often describes them.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, founder of the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications and a renowned Jewish theologian, recalled Jesus' origin and said that although "we live in a terrible world, there is still room for hope."
He said that Jesus Christ, his times, teachers and context cannot be understood, if it is not kept in mind that he was a Jew. "The New Testament is a writing of Jews on Jews," he emphasized.
Rabbi Steinsaltz said that tolerance is difficult for monotheist religions. "Monotheisms cannot be tolerant: If you think that truth is one, how can you say that there is another?" he asked. However, he said that truth does not impede dialogue and the will to understand the other.
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee praised "Nostra Aetate," especially for recognizing the unique relation -- the covenant -- that God established with the Chosen People.
Rome's Chief Rabbi Ricardo Di Segni said that the more dialogue progresses, the more new challenges arise. But it is precisely for this reason that it is worth going further, to address the differences, he said.
Maria Nicoletta Gaida, director of the Dionysia Center, was awarded the Angelo Roncalli Medal (named after Pope John XXIII), in recognition of the center's work to foster dialogue between Catholics and Jews.
The award, the first of its kind, was conferred by the Raoul Wallenberg International Foundation, dedicated to promoting the memory of the Holocaust and of those who struggled to save its victims.
In 2000, the foundation established the Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli International Committee, to promote recognition of the humanitarian action of Apostolic Nuncio Roncalli in favor of individuals persecuted by the Nazi regime.