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November 12, 2012

The fathers of the Second Vatican Council were prescient in their decision to write a document on the Church's relation to non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate). The trends of mass immigration and the expansion of mass communications were likely not foreseeable 50 years ago, and they have brought Christians in many parts of the Western world into close contact with people of other faiths.

As Cindy Wooden's article on Page 5 states, Catholics must walk a balance between two extremes - religious indifferentism that assumes all religions are equally valid paths to God and a fundamentalism that looks upon those of other faiths with disdain. Such a path may not be easy to walk, especially for those whose grasp of their own faith is tenuous.

However, that balance should be easiest to maintain with those of the Jewish faith. Christianity not only was founded on Judaism, it continues to draw nourishment from "that good olive tree onto which the wild olive branches of the Gentiles have been grafted" (Nostra Aetate, 4).

Indeed, we ought to pause when we hear Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman: "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4.22). While there are Old and New covenants, there is but one plan of salvation and one People of God. How exactly Jews and Christians are united as one people and how the one plan of salvation will be worked out in the future remain unknown. What we do know is that God did not renege on his covenant with Israel when he established his New Covenant.

The 2002 statement of the Pontifical Biblical Commission entitled The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible discussed several themes shared between Christianity and Judaism. Both faiths understand God as revealing himself directly to humans - he speaks to us. Both see human beings as created in God's image, yet also wretched in that we have forfeited God's trust in us. Both religions see God as our liberator and saviour, even as they understand those terms in different ways.

While there is similarities and differences in how the two faiths understand these and other shared themes, Christians nevertheless see their understanding of those questions springing from seeds sown in the Old Testament.

The late Richard Neuhaus maintained that when Christians do not walk together with Jews, we are in danger of regressing into paganism. Various forms of idolatry are constant temptations for Christians, temptations that can only be averted when we keep our eyes on the God of Abraham who is both utterly transcendent and always ready to enter into human history.

Christianity is deeply indebted to Judaism. After a tortured history, we are now beginning to walk hand-in-hand and to conduct a dialogue based more on commonalities than on areas of disagreement.