It is interesting to reflect how as an Interreligious Team, we comply with the document entitled, ‘Nostra Aetate, which is the Declaration of the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, dated 28 October 1965.

Nostra Aetate was the surprise outcome of Vatican II, at the time there was no strong movement in the Church for interreligious dialogue.

Originally, Pope John XXIII intended to issue a statement relating to relations between the Church and Judaism. He had been approached by the French Jewish historian Jules Isaac, who asked him to issue a statement reversing the ‘teaching of contempt’ to counter the anti-Semitism that was rife among Christians at the time. Surprisingly, this was barely twenty years since the full extent of the persecution of the Jews during WWII had been revealed to the world. Pope John XXIII agreed to this, but after consultation with Bishops from the Arab world, fearing that such a document would show support for Israel, it was decided to widen it to encompass all religions.

Nostra Aetate clearly states that: The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is holy and true in these religions. It has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines, which although differing in many ways from its own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth, which enlightens all men and women.

The Church, therefore, urges its sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions.

Our Diocese has since the time of Bishop Kevin Dunn (2004 – 2008) had an active Interreligious Team, formally Department, Commission, whatever, we have worn many hats, but the aims and objectives remain the same. These are to promote understanding and tolerance towards all people of faith, working together to highlight our similarities and differences and to respect our beliefs.

We are essentially an Advisory Group and we do all that is within our abilities to offer assistance and advice when requested.

Holocaust Commemorations

As a team we have for many years held annual Diocesan Holocaust Commemorations involving secondary schools within our Diocese. These events usually take place as close to 27 January as possible. These commemorations are held in the evening and are advertised, so they are open to anyone wishing to attend. To date there have been four schools who have hosted these events. During lockdown we were able to access enough material to produce online commemorations with the assistance of our Diocesan Communications team. These events have enabled us to develop a close working relationship with The United Hebrew Congregation who have provided invaluable assistance. Speakers are sourced from within the Jewish community, although sadly with the passing of time there are very few survivors left to give an account of their experiences. The mantle has been passed to their children and grandchildren. Genocides that occurred during the 20th century are also commemorated. We have also included the moving testimony of Smajo Beso OBE who is a survivor of the conflict in Bosnia, now resident in his adopted city of Newcastle, he has contributed to our Commemorations on several occasions.

Christian and Muslim Prayers for Peace

This event usually takes place in June at the historic Lady Chapel, which is situated in Jesmond Dene. Women and young children attend, although at our recent event it was decided to invite men to attend with their families. This event started following the September 2001 attack on the Twin Towers. The Team works closely with Hengameh from the Muslim Community. This event celebrates Muslim Christian shared devotion to Our Blessed Lady, passages from the Qu’ran and New Testament are included as well as prayers. Refreshments are usually served in The Holy Name Church Hall. This provides an opportunity to discuss our similarities and differences, for example we have compared our Rosary Beads and explained our devotion to the mysteries of the Rosary with the Islamic Misbaha, which represent the 99 names used for Allah (God). Again during lockdown, we managed to produce an online commemoration, again with the assistance of our Diocesan Communications Team.

These two events highlight the close working relationship we share with the ‘Abrahamic’ faiths.

In September 2022 we held a ‘Faith and Food’ event. Four speakers from the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Christian faiths (our own Fr Chris Hughes) spoke about the relationship between spiritual and physical nourishment. This was in support of the ‘Year of the Eucharist’.

Our Diocese is large, extending from the Tweed to the Tees, to the Cumbrian Border. Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland have active Interfaith groups and we endeavour to support and attend activities organised by these groups, thus representing our Diocese. Attendances at many events are low compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

Recently, the team was contacted by Ian Netton who had been recently reappointed as a Consultor to the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims for the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City. He had been asked to write a report on dialogue and activities taking place in the UK.

The team were able to provide him with details of some of the activities that we engage in and received the following reply, “I am impressed at the activities taking place in your Diocese. Interest in Interfaith dialogue and activities tends to be patchy, some are impressively active like yours, but others prefer to concentrate on the ecumenical dimension of dialogue rather than Interfaith.

Advantages of Interfaith involvement, breaking down barriers, understanding and appreciating the beliefs of others, and respecting how beliefs and practice impact on daily life. Realising that we all have one common aim and I quote the words from a speech made just before Vatican II opened.

We all have to live on this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures and we are all mortal.

We, the team, thank Fr Mariadass for his time, patience, faith and trust in us.

Not forgetting Amy, Mark and Emma (from the Vicariate for Faith and Mission) who support us, especially with their time, patience and encouragement.