October 11, 1962 was fifty years ago today.
I was in my sophomore year of high school seminary at Saint Vincent in Latrobe, and we were settling into the new Minor Seminary residence hall for our diocese at Saint Joseph Hall. It was not yet finished, but the sleeping quarters were. We improvised the rest of the schedule for nearly a semester. This life was still new, being away from home and being in the seminary program. It was still exciting being a part of something new with the seminary building project. We were still excited about our new young bishop, William G. Connare, who had taken over as the second bishop of the diocese in May of 1960.
The country was also dealing with a new young president in John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, dynamic, outgoing, and for many inspiring. Coming after the Eisenhower years it was like a rejuvenation, a breath of fresh air, a more positive attitude and youthful outlook on life.
And the new pope, John XXIII, had done something revolutionary in many eyes by calling an Ecumenical Council of the Church. The last one had been many years before. But this, the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council would look at the Church and address her role in the modern world. The Church had been around for nearly 2000 years, just as the nation had been around for nearly 200 years and the Diocese of Greensburg for only ten. But Greensburg was alive and expanding, with a sense of optimism. The nation was optimistic about the future and her role as a leader in the world, and the young president and "Camelot" seemed to be doing the trick. And the Church, ever the same yet ever changing, was faced with the need to look at herself, to redefine her mission and role, and to evaluate her effectiveness. Rooted and aligned to the kingdoms and rulers in the past, in the post war years she faced a brand new world of challenges and possibilities. Pope John XXIII realized that challenge and brought his Faith and simple Hope to his role as Servant of the Servants of God.
On this day in 1962, over two thousand bishops from around the world processed from the great doors of the Apostolic Palace, vested in cope and miter, through Saint Peter's Square and the main doors of Saint Peter's to begin what became known as the Second Vatican Council. The pomp and ceremony, the historical import of the event, the simple trust and prayers of the People of God, were overwhelming. Nothing like that had been seen in recent memory. Even at Vatican I, there were only about 750 Council Fathers, and most were from Europe. This was a worldwide, universal gathering. The excitement was high, the prospects daunting, the results unknown. Most of the prep work by the Curia was soon tossed out to be replaced by a grass roots agenda. The results of that Council, which ended on December 8, 1965, are still being en fleshed and experienced by the Church Universal.
But on that day in October there was excitement. The instant news coverage would not have been there, but people watched for news. Our own bishop was one of the Council Fathers, which brought us great pride and excitement. His intervention (speech) to the Council, I believe, was on the Breviary (the Divine Office - the official prayer of the Church).
And in reading Whispers today I was reminded of the impromptu gathering of thousands in Saint Peter's Square the night before the opening, processing and praying by candlelight and have good Pope John speak "off the cuff" from his window to the crowds below.
In calling for an "opening of the windows", the pope allowed the Spirit of God to begin a good work within us that has yet to come to completion. Truly a new and exciting time - then ... and now.