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More than a commemoration

Ever since Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith it has been understood that the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would not be a mere celebration. This is confirmed by the signs of the liturgy and,especially, by the words of the Pope: the commemoration of that unforgettable day is not nostalgia but a living and necessary memory for the journey of Christians in the world today; a difficult route – but when has it ever been easy? –  that the Bishop of Rome has compared to a journey in the desert.

Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”, the Pope said. “In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us”. This remark might sound pessimistic, just as for decades Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was often portrayed as a pessimist, as if he were one of the “prophets of gloom” with whom  John XXIII, in opening the Second Vatican Council, felt bound to disagree, and quite rightly

On the contrary, nothing is further from the reality of this common place. Benedict XVI's gaze is marked by the same confident realism as that of his predecessors – the Popes who wanted, directed, concluded and welcomed the Council – because it is precisely “in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women”. And Pope Ratzinger is not the ditch-digger of Vatican II, just as neither John Paul II nor Paul VI standardized or undermined it.

From a historical viewpoint – which some would like to disqualify as apologetic – it is not hard to trace a substantial and profound continuity between the Popes of the Council, each one, of course, characterized by his own individuality. The Second Vatican Council was and is an extraordinary grace. Just as its documents are a firm point that “save us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead”, Benedict XVI recalled. It is “literally” here that the spirit of the Council lies: in accordance with the dynamic of Tradition, in obedience to the Spirit who guides the Church on her journey.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 18, 2019

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