A special service of sung vespers was held at St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, last Thursday, to mark the fortieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council on the Church's relation to non-Christian religions issued on 28 October 1965. The Most Revered Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, the principal celebrant and preacher, warmly welcome representatives of the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist and Hindus communities in Birmingham. Also present were representatives of other Christian traditions. In his sermon Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: "Forty years ago, and I hesitate to think of this, I was a young 20 year old and a student for the priesthood in the English College in Rome. It was, of course, at the time of the Second Vatican Council. "I can still sense some of the excitement of the change that was taking place before us. The autumn of 1965 saw the issuing of some remarkable documents including the Declaration Nostra Aetate which marked out a new path for the Catholic Church. Listening again to the words of the Declaration this evening demonstrates how contemporary and important it still is." Archbishop Nichols continued: "To my Muslim friends who are here this evening, and to those who are not able to be here because of Ramadan, I offer not only a greeting but also I assure you of my prayers for so many of your community who are filled with sadness and grief at the terrible events of the recent earthquake. "You and I know how closely Islamic Relief and the Catholic Charity CAFOD work together to do all that is possible to bring help to those stricken areas. That would not have happened 40 years ago." The Archbishop stressed: "We stand together in seeking to strengthen the religious freedom that all people should enjoy. Indeed, after the right to life, this is the most important of all human rights, especially for minorities. "The sign of a true civilisation is that such respect and freedom is upheld. Without freedom for true religious living everything else we attempt will become distorted and, eventually, corrupted. Without God the human project turns in on itself and becomes the destroyer of those it claims to champion. We have seen this often enough to know how true it is." Archbishop Nichols concluded: "So we seek respect for religious expression in daily life, being convinced that a harmonious society can only be built on these foundations. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation, seeking with all our hearts to avoid the errors of the past and to stand together, especially in times of tension and anger, as a sign of our fundamental unity as brothers and sister of the One Lord of all."
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