A new chapter in interfaith?

By Ed Kessler, September 21, 2010
Keep in touch: Pope Benedict and Lord Sacks demonstrated friendship across the faiths when they met

Keep in touch: Pope Benedict and Lord Sacks demonstrated friendship across the faiths when they met

The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, proclaimed a "friendship across faiths" as he introduced Pope Benedict XVI to a select group of 100 representatives of Britain's religious communities in London.

It was the Vatican's Nostra Aetate declaration of 1965 that "brought about the single greatest transformation in interfaith relations in recent history," the Chief Rabbi said, "and we recognise your visit today as a new chapter in that story and a vital one".

A cross-communal Jewish delegation from Charedi to Liberals had come on the eve of Yom Kippur to hear the Pope on the second day of his four-day state visit to the UK.

Lord Sacks - whose greetings were followed by Muslim representative Dr Khaled Azzam - used the occasion to emphasise that faith "has a major role in strengthening civil society".

Secularisation had begun in Europe because people had lost faith in people of faith living peaceably together, he said: "We must never go down the road again."

The Pope, who appeared at home among his interfaith audience, began by wishing the Jews of Britain and the world "a happy and holy celebration of Yom Kippur".

He noted that since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church "placed special emphasis on the importance of dialogue and co-operation with the followers of other religions".

The council (which led to Nostra Aetate) was a key defining event for Catholicism in the 20th century and a turning point in the history of Jewish-Catholic relations as well as Catholic relations with other faiths.

Concluding his short and well-received address, the Pope said that Catholics would "continue to work to build bridges of friendship to other religions, to heal past wrongs and to foster trust between individuals and communities".

The Jewish community's best known interfaith activist, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, was represented at the meeting by his son Michael, who chairs the Three Faiths Forum. CST founder Gerald Ronson was also present.

The previous day, Board president Vivian Wineman recited a brachah on meeting the Pope, in Hebrew and Latin, during the state reception in Holyrood Castle, Edinburgh.

Last updated: 3:04pm, September 21 2010