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Drew ChristiansenFebruary 20, 2012

I am writing from Rome. I have been here a week and seen no reference to the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, even in the tourist shops attuned to every other observance. In the Vatican bookstore, I discovered splendidly printed versions of the Missale Romanum of 1958 and 1962 but not of 2002. It made me wonder, “What does the Vatican Press know that we don’t?”

My own invitation to visit Rome from the Graymoor Friars’ Centro Pro Unione, an ecumenical center, however, did come with a Vatican II connection. James Puglisi, S.A., the Atonement Friars’ superior general, had asked me to speak on developments in justice and peace since Vatican II. As I attended prayer services across central Rome for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it was clear that the ecumenism initiated by Blessed John XXIII and the council is alive and well among the internationals here in the Eternal City.

The message I brought to the Centro was that through the council the Spirit had made the church a leaven for the world. I am struck by how much confidence church leaders in that time had that the Spirit was at work both in the church and in the world. Ten years after the council, Pope Paul VI could still write: “We live in the church at a privileged moment of the Spirit. Everywhere people are trying to know him better.... They are gathering about him; they want to let themselves be led by him.” Pope Paul understood how much we need the Spirit to overcome the religious inertia that threatens to choke off the Spirit within us.

In the 50 years since the council, Catholics have challenged the powers that be. Polish Catholics like Lech Walesa helped precipitate the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, and Corazon Aquino led the ouster of the Marcos regime in the Philippines. Bishops like Zaire’s Laurent Monswengo and Guatemala’s Rodolfo Quesada Toruño led efforts at national conciliation. Chile’s Vicariat of Solidarity pioneered the work of church human rights centers; and in their defense of human rights, bishops like Patriarch Michel Sabbah in the Holy Land and Felipe Ximenes Belo in East Timor served as tribunes of their people.

The coordinated efforts of Catholics round the world helped bring about debt relief for poor nations as part of the Great Jubilee in 2000. The late Angelo D’Agostino, S.J., pioneered the distribution in East Africa of inexpensive anti-retroviral drugs for children afflicted with H.I.V./AIDS, and Catholic migrant agencies have cared for hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons. The Spirit’s inspiration is still at work.

While visiting the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I learned that while plans for the Vatican II anniversary have just begun to be laid, the council has a full agenda, much of it dealing with the environment: water, energy and the Rio Plus 20 global summit on sustainable development. Cardinal Peter Turkson, the council president, also announced a three-day conference in 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of “Pacem in Terris,” the landmark encyclical of John XXIII that launched the church’s witness on behalf of human rights.

U.S. Catholics are significant participants in ventures of the Council for Justice and Peace. The Kroc Institute for Peace at the University of Notre Dame is assisting in a global consultation on best practices in peacemaking, and Michael Naughton of the University of Saint Thomas business school is contributing to a project on the formation of business leaders for the common good. Through the work of committed Christians, the Spirit continues to transform the world, much as the fathers of the Second Vatican Council hoped.

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Eileen Gould
12 years 3 months ago
Why am I not convinced by your article?
Michael Barberi
12 years 3 months ago
Clearly, there have been many events in the world following Vatican II where the social theology of the Catholic Church has made significant contributions. However, when it comes of sexual ethics and moral issues, the Church has seen a Crisis of Truth emerge that has divided the Church of Christ.

There have been many essays written challanging the contributions implemented in the post-Vatican II Church. To many, Ecumenism has been a failure. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have very different opinions about the real message and meaning of Vatican II compared to the interpretations of documents many bishops and theologians have today.

This article touches on many issues where it is implied that the spirit of Vatican II continues to transform the world, such as the many efforts to distribute of anti-retroviral drugs for those inflected with HIV-AIDS. Yet, this article fails to mention the suffering and moral dilemma of young seropositve couples who are told they cannot use a condom in an act of sexual intercourse when both spouses wish to express thier llove and affection for each other. They must practice life-long celibacy. The consequences of celibacy, marriage endangerment and suffering cannot be over emphasized. Equally important is the fact that celibacy is a special gift from God given to the very few. Yet this fact seems to be morally irrelevant. Suffering, moral dilemma and ethical conflict are subordinate to the moral absolute that every marital act must have a procreative meaning.  

If this is the spirit of Vatican II that Father Christiansen is referring to, I am not convinced much progress has been made. 
12 years 3 months ago
Yes, the Church (and that includes all of us being members of the Mystical Body) has so much more to do, but my goodness, can't we please,  at least recognize  and affirm the successes.  Why dwell on the negatives ad infinitum. ...sadly they are repeated over and over again,  to the point that many people are so disheartened. They begin to believe that the American Church is a total failure. Any good news re the Church is met with cynicism or disbelief. The secular culture is so pervasive, even we Catholics just go along with it.  The Catholic Church is universal, in other parts of the world the Church is flourishing!   But we don't hear  about it because unfortunately the media ignores it.  It is so addicted to scandals and other negativities, that it doesn't have room for anything else. 

For your info, the Catholic Church in the USofA is alive.  There are many vibrant young Catholics out there, starting or joining organizations to spread the Good News.  Prayer groups, Bible Study/Discussion groups, Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament  and Marian devotion are becoming popular again. 
12 years 3 months ago
Thanks to Fr. Drew Christensen for his insightful, Roman, and ecumenical reflections (OF MANY THINGS, February 20). He did justly refer to the tremendous contributions of  Filipe Ximenes Belo in East Timor and of the late Angelo D'Agostino, S.J. in East Africa. 

Bishop Belo is a Salesian of Don Bosco, a member of the largest male religious congregation in the Catholic Church today (second, in numbers, among all Religious Institutes, only to the Jesuits, who are an "Order of Clerics Regular"), with more than 3,000 schools and youth centers in 131 countries today. We Salesians are very proud of Bishop Belo, winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with José Ramos-Horta.

As Father Angelo D'Agostino, S.J., was justly identified by Fr. Christensen as a Jesuit, I wish Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, S.D.B., had also been similarly identified as a Salesian of Don Bosco.
12 years 2 months ago

Drew Christiansen (OF MANY THINGS, Feb 20th) claims that in the 50 years since Vatican II, Catholics have challenged the powers that be. and claims that “the Spirit continues to transform the world…”. In that same issue Patricia Wittberg (A Lost Generation?) closes with the warning that “the church could cease to be an influential voice in Western societies.”

It seems to me that, in the last 25 years, Catholics have failed to challenge the powers that be in our Church, specifically Popes John Paul and Benedict. Fr. Christiansen rightly claims that the Spirit is alive in the world today; however, He (She?) doesn’t seem to be heard too well in the Vatican. It seems to me that the Church is already on a slippery slope that will lead the Church to lose its influence in Western societies.

John M. Young

1400 Carll Straight Path

Dix Hills, NY 11746


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