Campus Interfaith Statue Celebrates 50th Anniversary of ‘Nostra Aetate’

Friday, October 23, 2015

by Sarah Panetta '16

Wednesday, Oct. 28, marks the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”), the Second Vatican Council’s document that called for the transformation of the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish faiths. To celebrate this ground breaking proclamation, Saint Joseph’s University commissioned “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time,” an original bronze sculpture that uses feminine figures to symbolize the Synagogue and the Church.

According to Philip A. Cunningham, Ph.D., professor of theology and director of SJU’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations (IJCR), such representations were common in the Middle Ages, but the Jewish figure was portrayed as blind and defeated, subject to victorious Christianity.

“The new sculpture by Philadelphia artist Joshua Koffman instead depicts the two women as equals and friends studying their respective traditions together,” says Cunningham.

A dedication for the sculpture, located on campus near the Chapel of St. Joseph-Michael J. Smith, S.J., Memorial was held on Friday, Sept. 25. An interfaith audience of over 400 people attended the event, including members of various Jewish communities and organizations. The dedication featured keynote speaker Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamerica in Buenos Aires and a longtime friend of Pope Francis. A best-selling book of their interfaith dialogues, On Heaven and Earth, was published in 2013.

Adam Gregerman, Ph.D., assistant professor of Jewish studies and assistant director of the IJCR says, “The statue shows Jews and Christians as friends studying together —what Jews call chavruta partners. This has only become possible after Nostra Aetate, and SJU is committed to being a place where the new relationship deepens and matures.”

Pope Francis arrived in Philadelphia on Saturday, Sept. 26,  for a weekend of events for the World Meeting of Families. The following day, the Pope visited SJU to bless the new statue en route from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to downtown Philadelphia for the Papal Mass that concluded his historic U.S. visit.

“The religious significance of the sculpture is evidence of how the Catholic and Jewish communities are beginning to chart the unexplored paths of mutuality — learning from each other’s distinctive lives of holiness before God,” says Cunningham, who calls the long friendship between Pope Francis and Rabbi Skorka “a vivid example of this mutuality.”

Cunningham says that the statue, the only monument of its kind, expresses Pope Francis’ beliefs and vision for future relations between the Catholic and Jewish communities.

“When passersby see ‘Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time,’ they should recall why Pope Francis stopped to bless it,” says Cunningham. “He was blessing the work of promoting mutual enrichment between Jews and Catholics, which is the mission of SJU’s IJCR and similar initiatives elsewhere.”

Before departing Saint Joseph’s to celebrate Mass in the city, Pope Francis embraced Rabbi Skorka who, pointing at the sculpture, said to him, in Spanish, that the figures represent “you and me; Rabbi and Pope, learning from one another.”

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