In my July column, I noted an event in St. Louis on the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate, "In Our Age") of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).
I am happy to pass along some information on another St. Louis event, this one focusing on this same declaration as well as the same Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae, "Human Dignity").
Fontbonne University, 6800 Wydown Blvd., St. Louis, will host "To Achieve Human Dignity: 50 Years with Nostra Aetate and Dignitatis Humanae from the Documents of Vatican II," on Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 20 and 21. The events are free of charge; you are asked to register by Oct. 6 at www.fontbonne.edu/nostra, where, of course, you can obtain detailed information on the various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scholars who will be speaking.
On Sept. 8, Pope Francis announced some new procedural rules for marriage-nullity cases. These will go into effect this Dec. 8, the beginning of the "Year of Mercy" and also the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II. Besides serving as ecumenical and interreligious officer, I am in charge our diocesan tribunal, where I have worked since 1983. I welcome the new provisions of the law, which will in many respects simplify our procedures, although we will continue the difficult task of studying in detail the histories of the marriages in question.
From the ecumenical and interreligious point of view, we must remember that Catholic law presumes in favor of the validity of all marriages, of people of any religion and no religion. This is because we understand marriage to be a natural institution. A great number of the cases we study are of marriages which did not involve any Catholics. Those petitioning to be declared free to marry are, in these cases, seeking to marry Catholics or to become Catholics. Therefore this sort of work has its own ecumenical and interreligious dimension, demanding sensitivity to different religious perspectives, and providing to me examples of generous love as people unfamiliar with the Catholic Church nevertheless respond to what we ask of them.
As we welcome the arrival of Pope Francis to the United States, we should remember that the first visit of a pope to our shores was almost exactly 50 years ago. Blessed Paul VI visited New York City and the United Nations on Oct. 4, 1965. I remember this event very well. It was a school day, and arrangements had been made to put a television set in each of the classrooms at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Decatur, where I was in third grade. In glorious black-and-white we saw the pope's arrival, his meeting with President Johnson, and his address to the U.N. General Assembly. In the evening, at home, we may also have caught a glimpse of the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium. Pope Paul did not stay overnight, but headed back to Rome at the end of the day.
This 1965 event was a day of great pride for American Catholics. Pope Francis will, I believe, help us to understand ourselves as a gifted people who have much to contribute to the entire world community. May we understand ourselves as members of a truly universal church, and develop a deeper appreciation of Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, in our midst.