Seton Hall faculty and friends at the march.
During the first week of Core 1, students are introduced to the important document from Vatican II Nostra Aetate. This statement, issued in 1965, explains the Church's relationship with other non-Christian religions, defining it in terms of respect and dialogue. Particularly significant was the section regarding Jews, as the document articulates in very clear terms the debt Christians owe to Jews, as to elder brothers and sisters, and how any form of antisemitism is antithetical to the values of true Christian belief. The document's Latin title, Nostra Aetate, means "In our time," and it is important to consider what was going on in the world in 1965, as well as what is going on in our own world now.
In my own Journey classes, I have my students do an online search for news items from 1965 that relate to issues raised in Nostra Aetate. Implicit in the affirmations of the Church council in the document are critiques of attitudes that would go against them. For example, the first sentence of Nostra Aetate reads, "In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions" (section 1). Implicit in the statement is the need to move beyond externals and negative stereotypes of others in light of the growing closeness "between different peoples," as it was seen to be developing in 1965. Toward the end of the document, we read even stronger words: "We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man [or woman], created as he is in the image of God" (section 5). In the last paragraph, the Council says, "The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men [or women] or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to 'maintain good fellowship among the nations' (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven" (section 5). Students, searching among news items from 1965, will find much that relates to these statements — both as examples of the attitudes advocated in the document and, sadly, those going against them. The document clearly was intended to address some of these negative attitudes (of racism and bigotry) by making a strong statement for the opposing spiritual virtues of peace, love, justice, and mercy.
A similar statement (of actions as well as words) occurred this Wednesday, September 4, in Newark, NJ, where at least 400 Catholics and others sympathetic to the cause of compassion and justice for immigrants met at St. Mary's/Newark Abbey (520 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd) for a prayer service and then processed to the Federal Building at 970 Broad St. in Newark. The entire service and march were prayerful and peaceful. Hymns were sung, and protestors carried signs with phrases such as "I was a stranger, and you took me in," the words of Jesus in Matthew 25. Some carried images of children who have died in detention. A group of us from Seton Hall (all of us affiliated with the Core, in one way or another) participated, and it was a beautiful experience to be with these others from our small community of the Core in solidarity with the others in the vigil and march. Many priests and religious sisters, including our own Core and Communications instructor Sister Bosco, were in the procession, and we were honored that our Archbishop, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, participated throughout, from the prayer meeting at St. Mary's to the gathering at the Federal Building. He made the point that we need to "put a face" on the immigrants who are being detained at the border. His words, quoted in an article in America, the Jesuit Journal, echo those in Nostra Aetate, as applying church teaching to events "in our time":
Children will bear the trauma wrought by immigration enforcement raids, separation from their families, and indeterminate detention. These draconian measures are not, they are not, a solution to our broken immigration system. They are violations of human dignity and are contrary to all religious teachings and the sacred call to care for our most vulnerable populations. Unlike others, we don't have to look up Bible verses to justify the building of walls. There are none.
Those of us who were there are grateful to have a spiritual leader in the Archdiocese of Newark who has the courage and heart to take a prophetic stance on this crucial issue. In the Core, we always need to remember that the texts we read, even the ones much more ancient than Nostra Aetate, can bear an important meaning for us, when applied wisely to events in our own time and situation.