“The Catholic Church, raising the torch of religious truth by means of this Ecumenical Council, desires to show Herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness...” Sixty years have passed since Pope Saint John XXIII inaugurated the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.
With a 37-minute address in Latin, on 11 October 1962, the elderly Pope, in front of 2,449 bishops gathered together, and a massive crowd that had seen their immense procession in Saint Peter’s Square, brought to completion a dream and a tenaciously-pursued inspiration. Pope John XXIII could not bring the ship, which set sail that day, to port.
Yet only he, with the calm and decisive pace of a farmer, and the ability to grasp the positive aspects of the signs of the times, had been able to dare so much, taking a decision that his predecessors had renounced. Only he had been able to open the Council. And only his successor, Pope Saint Paul VI, had been able to complete the work of Vatican II, succeeding in the miracle of having all the conciliar documents approved almost unanimously.
In the following decade, Pope Paul VI would then suffer internal contestation and divisions, a “martyrdom of patience”, to keep the helm of the Barque of Peter steady. He steadied it as to avoid running aground in the shallows, due to backward thrusts, or falling on the rocks, due to uncontrolled forward bursts.
Sixty years later, that journey is not yet over. Pope Francis concretely follows its paths, even though he is the first of Saint Peter’s Successors in the last half century not to have directly experienced that event as a conciliar father or as a theologian. He does this by recalling that the only purpose for which the Church exists is the proclamation of the Gospel to the women and men of today.
The Magisterium of the current Bishop of Rome is reflected in the words pronounced precisely sixty years ago by Pope John XXIII: to bear witness to the face of a Church, “the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness”, who is capable of closeness and tenderness, capable of accompanying those in the dark and in need. A Church that does not trust in itself and does not chase worldly power or media relevance, but humbly puts herself behind her Lord, trusting only in him.
By Andrea Tornielli