With the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 2nd Vatican Council coming up in 2012 there is growing interest and many debates about the Council and what did, did not or should have come out of it. There is one central person who started it all, whose vision it was to open the windows of the Church, as he called it, and so let a more people-centred Church emerge.
Olinda Orlando of Radio Veritas is a great fan of Angelo Roncalli,
who became Pope John XXXIII. As she said in the interview I conducted with her, instead of being a care-taker pope as was commonly assumed at the time, this short, round, friendly, loveable little man became a giant figure in our day. She regards him as one of the great personages of the 20th century.
“What attracted you to him?” I asked Olinda and she started by saying, “He was the pope of my youth.” Like many another 14 year old at the time she was a very devout girl, loved the Church passionately, loved the liturgy, the incense, the sense of theatre and drama too, but welcomed the change from the more austere figure of austerity of Pope Pius II to the much warmer, more compassionate figure who, she believes, must have been selected almost miraculously through the workings of the Holy Spirit. He came across as very approachable and exuded a joyful holiness that enchanted everyone. She remembers how when she questioned anything at school sister would say, “feelings don’t matter. Duty is important.” John XXIII’s view seemed very different, a more human view of people, where people mattered.
He was for many years a diplomat in the Church, but came from a very simple, peasant background. He was obviously a man of great intellect, charm and humour and is credited with saying when asked “how many people work in the Vatican?” “About half.”
Olinda shared that she saw it as an interesting and exciting time. Of course there was no TV so we were all dependent on hearing the news on radio and seeing events on the news at the movies. It was the era of John F Kennedy, a Catholic as President of the United States. It was a tough time in world politics. John Kennedy had to deal with communism, Cuba and the nuclear threat and in this same context John XXIII wrote his last encyclical Pacem in Terris. Both men, the young and the old Catholic died in the same year, 1963 and were a tremendous inspiration to her.
Pope John recognised that the Church had to change and so he called the Council. There was some opposition from the start and he would not allow the Curia to set the goalposts but supported the deeper questioning of the bishops at the
but supported the deeper questioning of the bishops at theCouncil as the sessions developed.
“What would John XXIII think now of the legacy he has left the Church?” I asked Olinda.
“Much remains to be done to implement Vatican II and to create a more compassionate, person-centred Church“ Olinda replied and added that in her view he would be hoping for a Church that takes into account the struggles and pains of all the ordinary Catholic without focusing too exclusively on the needs of the poor.
She concluded, “ Where are we now? Today there appears to be confusion between order and control and order, not control should be the way of today.”
“But would the message of Gaudium et Spes, the joy and hope that are expressed in the final document of the Council which he did not live to see fit into his vision?” I asked.
Her reply came in the form of one of his famous sayings, a legacy for peace and justice, for life.
“Consult not your fears but rather your hopes and dreams.
Think not about your frustrations but your unfulfilled potential.
Concern yourself not with what you have failed in but what you can still do.”
Wise words from Good Pope John, an old and wise man, a person for everyone, old and young. Hopefully he will be canonised soon to strengthen his position as a hero for our children and grandchildren. That is what Olinda has done her best to instill into hers.
WHO WAS JOHN XXIII. Angelo Roncalli, born into a peasant family, 1881, entered the seminary at age 11 and was ordained at 23. He served in many ways, secretary to his bishop, chaplain during world war I, in the diplomatic service in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece where he was at outbreak of World War II. He was also nuncio in France and cardinal of Venice at time he was elected as Pope in 1958. He died in 1963 less than 5 years later but having left a personal legacy as a pastoral man of compassion for the ordinary people and of deep prayer. His legacy to the Church and the world was the Second Vatican Council.
PACEM IN TERRIS was the 2nd encyclical issued by Pope John XXIII in 1963 some months before his death. It was the first encyclical that the Pope did not address only to the Catholic faithful but also to “all men of good will.” He reacted to the political situation of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile crisis. In this “peace encyclical “ he stated that conflicts should not be resolved by recourse to arms, but by negotiation. He emphasized the importance of respect for human rights as an essential consequence of the Christian understanding of mankind.