Monday November 09,



Written by Alan Hustak for VMO
Wednesday October 28th,

Fifty years ago this week marks a dramatic turning point in relations between Catholics and Jews.  

On Oct. 28, 1965,  Pope Paul VI  issued a ground breaking Vatican II declaration, Nostra Aetate (In our Time) which ordered Catholics “to enter with prudence and charity into discussions and collaboration” with people of other religions, especially Jews. It represents a historic condemnation of anti-Semitism and paved the way for inter-faith dialogue.  

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the papal declaration, the work of Montreal-based Judith Cohen Lechter will have its world premiere at the Vatican in December.   Entitled Nostra Aetate: Oratorio for World Peace, the composition has been a labor of love for the composer and soloist.

Cohen Lechter is the founder of World Peace Through Music, an international organization that brings musicians from around the world together to give concerts which promote peace. Once described as an “apostle of peace,” she has been recognized by the Sorbonne Academy as “the finest performer of Jewish art music.” 

She first became aware of the encyclical ten years ago, when a priest brought it to her attention. Nostra Aetate, she said, “made her tremble,” with its message of inclusiveness and love for all mankind. Apart from theologians and a few academics, she says very few people know about the document.

“I was in awe when I read it,” she said in an interview from Rome where she is in rehearsal. “Having always considered myself, in addition to being a citizen of the world, an ardent Jewess, I was deeply moved by the precious words of inclusiveness and its all-embracing message.” 

She became the driving force behind what  seemed  to be an insanely ambitious project.  The Vatican approved the work in March.  Originally the Oratorio was to have been presented on October 28th, but the logistics of putting it all together made it difficult to meet the deadline. 

“Easy to implement it is not,” she says, “It was extremely difficult finding and putting all the elements together with the orchestra, a 150-voice children’s choir, a cantor and a narrator all 5000 miles away.  Composing the work has been a great joy, and I am excited to have my dream of having the work performed at the very place of its birth, at the Vatican, come true.  I never lost hope and I never hesitated in my efforts. I always remembered the words of Theodor Herzl, “If you will it, it is no dream.” But of course, wishing is not enough, and the challenges were enormous. It was extremely difficult.”

Performances of the 2 hour piece are being planned for the spring at New York’s Carnegie Hall and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.  It is scheduled to be performed in Montreal at the Maison Symphonique on April 17, .  

The organization, Christian Jewish Dialogue of Montreal has scheduled a series of three events throughout the week to commemorate the publication of Nostra Aetate. On Thursday, 29 October, Professor Patricia Kirkpatrick of McGill University and Rabbi Schachar Orenstein will speak of Christian and Jewish initiatives which echo the sentiments of Nostra Aetate.

More information may be found here:

The full document may be found at


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