How should Catholics view non-Christian religions? Do these faith traditions have any validity or truth? How should we relate to non-Christians? In Nostra Aetate, or Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, the Vatican II Fathers answered these questions, emphasizing both the need for unity among all human beings and the Church's obligation to spread Christianity.
Here's a few of the topics and ideas you'll find in Nostra Aetate.
* In our age, human beings are drawing closer together. The Church has the obligation to work for unity and charity, to reflect on what people have in common, and to promote fellowship.
* Human beings are one community with a common origin in God and a common destiny in God.
* All people ask the same questions about the meaning of life and what happens at life's end.
* Throughout history, people have been aware of God on various levels and have sought to answer their questions through religion.
* Hinduism and Buddhism both attempt to answer questions about life and afterlife through doctrines, morality, and sacred rites. The Church respects these religions and does not reject what is true and holy in them.
* The Church must, however, always proclaim Christ as the fullness of religious life and the answer to all questions.
* Christians should enter into “discussion and collaboration with members of other religions” in prudence and charity, both witnessing to Christ and acknowledging the culture, social life, and “spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians.”
* Muslims share a spiritual heritage with Christians. “They worship God,Who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,” and they practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The Church urges “a sincere effort” to “achieve mutual understanding” with Muslims and to “preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice, and moral values.”
* The Church recognizes a strong spiritual link between Jews and Christians. God established a covenant with the Jewish people, who remain “very dear” to Him, for He does not take back His gifts.
* The Old Testament expresses God's covenant with the Jews and prefigures Christianity.
* The Church promotes “mutual understanding and appreciation” between Jews and Christians and firmly asserts that “neither all Jews indiscriminately” at the time of Christ, “nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed” during Jesus' passion. The Church strongly opposes persecution against the Jews and all antisemitism.
* Christ died “because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation.” The Church is obligated to proclaim Christ and His saving work.
* All people “are created in God's image” and should, therefore, be treated as brothers and sisters. The Church denounces all forms of discrimination and harassment “as foreign to the mind of Christ” and seeks to be “at peace” with all people.
The full text of Nostra Aetate is available online at the Vatican website.