21 Cheshvan 5776
3 November 2015
The 2015 Annual Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture held at St Joseph’s Church hall in Durban on the evening of Thursday, 29 October featured Rabbi Hillel Avidan, Cardinal Wilfred Napier and Sheik Saleem Banda addressing two Vatican statements, “Nostra Aetate” (from Pope Paul VI in October 1965) and “Laudato Si” (from the current Pope Francis).
Rabbi Avidan praised both papal declarations and gave credit to Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Bea who, between 1958 and 1963, did the groundwork for “Nostra Aetate”. Rabbi Avidan recounted how this declaration recognized the validity of non-Christian religions and repudiated the doctrine of ‘no salvation outside the Church’. The charge of ‘Deicide’ was lifted from the Jewish people and all negative references to Jews and to Judaism were to be expunged from the Catholic liturgy. He went on to say that this was particularly pleasing to the Jewish people because negative Catholic prayers and statements in the past had done so much harm. Rabbi Avidan gave credit to the many popes who had denounced the forced conversion of Jews (as in Iberia from 1390 onwards) and the infamous “blood libel” which first appeared in the English city of Norwich in 1144 and persisted in to the 20th century.
Despite papal protection of the Jews the Roman ghetto was the last one in Western Europe to be dismantled (in 1870) and during the Nazi period, while thousands of Jews were saved and sheltered by individual Catholics and Catholic institutions, there was no public papal condemnation of Nazi policy.
Turning to “Laudato Si” Rabbi Avidan, as a committed environmentalist since 1961, praised the commitment of Pope Francis to environmental care. Pope Francis, he said, is the single most important figure in the struggle to save our planet from further degradation at the hands of industrialists, arms dealers, multi-national companies and uncaring or shortsighted governments.