By Bishop Pat Power
This article was first published on CathBlog, a daily service of CathNews.
Planning a two week holiday in Italy, I had overlooked the fact that October 11 would mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
So on that day I travelled by train from Spoleto in Umbria to Rome for the historic occasion which was marked by a Mass celebrated in St Peter’s Square by Pope Benedict XVI with hundreds of bishops, many of whom were present in Rome for the Synod of Bishops. Australia was represented by Archbishop Denis Hart, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, and Bishop Christopher Prowse of Sale. They were all participating in the Synod.
The only clerical attire I had was a blue clerical shirt, so I did not concelebrate, but happily sat among the People of God for the celebration of the Mass. Archbishop Denis Hart had kindly arranged a ticket for me.
A week earlier, I had prayed at the tomb of Pope John XXIII in St Peter’s Basilica and was moved to tears as I contemplated the great contribution he and the Second Vatican Council had made to the life of the Church and its impact on the contemporary world.
Prior to the Mass, I had a chance meeting with Australian, Devett O’Brien, Secretary General of the International Young Christian Students movement. That meeting reminded me of the influence on Vatican II of Joseph Cardijn, founder of the Young Christian Workers. The YCW method of See, Judge and Act is very much in harmony with John XXIII’s call for us all to “read the signs of the times”.
Pope Benedict used the 50th anniversary of Vatican II as the occasion for the inauguration of the Year of Faith. During his homily he called for a renewed study of the Council documents to better understand Vatican II’s significance for today.
Present at the Mass, and given prominence close to the Pope, were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I.
The previous day, Archbishop Rowan Williams, a few months prior to his retirement, became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to address a Synod of Bishops in Rome. In a major speech, he spoke of Vatican II’s crucial impact on the ecumenical movement and of the opportunity it gave to the Church to bring the message of Christ to the contemporary world in a way which made sense to believers and unbelievers alike.
Today especially we cannot forget that great gathering which did so much for the health of the Church and helped the Church to recover so much of the energy needed to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ effectively in our age.
At the end of the Mass, Patriarch Bartholomew, speaking in fluent Italian, reflected in detail on the Vatican Council’s impact on the life of the Church and of the world.
On the train trip from Spoleto to Rome and back, I read from the newly published book – Speaking to the Heart – which contains some of the reflected wisdom of recently deceased Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.
Although not treating Vatican II directly, the book is taken from a series in which the Cardinal is writing in an Italian secular newspaper addressing the questions posed by the readers. They are touching examples of Vatican II’s plea for the Church to be in conversation with today’s world with all its complex questions.
During the Mass, I was conscious of the parts played at the Council by Australian bishops – Thomas Cahill, Guilford Young, Francis Rush and others – and what they did subsequently to help implement Vatican II as part of the life of the Church in Australia.
I recalled, too, Kevin Barry-Cotter, at that time a student priest in Rome, and many others who had witnessed the historic events of 11 October 1962. Kevin is in the course of writing for the Canberra-Goulburn archdiocesan newspaper Catholic Voice a series of personal reflections on those momentous happenings. A young Wagga priest, Francis Carroll, was also absorbed in it all.
As I left Rome, I felt privileged to have experienced an historic moment of grace on 11 October 2012 and I had hope in my heart for a new flowering of Vatican II which would more clearly enable the Church to show its best self in witnessing to the love of God and showing the face of Jesus to a world hungering for meaning.