John XXIII and Vatican II

Salt and Light Producer Weighs In on Canonization of Pope Who Opened Council

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Monday it was announced that the date has been set for the canonization of John XXIII, the Pope who convened the Second Vatican Council more than 50 years ago. 

Speaking in Latin, Pope Francis confirmed, during an ordinary public consistory of cardinals, that John XXIII will be canonized, along with John Paul II, on April 17, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday.

On July 5, the Holy Father declared that he had waived the traditional requirement for a second miracle in the cause for sainthood of John XXIII, thereby paving the way for his canonization next year.

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born Nov. 25, 1881. In 1958 he was elected to the Papacy, taking the name John XXIII. Known for convening the Second Vatican Council on October 7, 1962, John XXIII did not live to see the council come to its end. He died on June 3, 1963, and was succeeded by Paul VI. He was declared Blessed on September 3, 2000 by John Paul II, the same Pope with whom he will be canonized.

In October, 2012, the Synod on the New Evangelization was held in the Vatican, an event which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. 

Sebastian Gomes of Canada’s Salt and Light network recently helped to produce a documentary titled «Go and Teach: Inside the Synod on the New Evangelization,» which debuted last month. He spoke with ZENIT about what the canonization of John XXIII, who began the Second Vatican Council, means for the generation which followed its closing:

ZENIT: What impact has the Second Vatican Council had on your own life, and your faith-formation?

Gomes: It’s amazing to hear the stories of bishops, secretaries and delegates who attended the council 50 years ago. They always say what an extraordinary impact it had on their lives and their perspective on the Church today.

The most influential people in my life, whether personal, spiritual or intellectual, have all been Vatican II people. That means my entire formation has been imbued with the teachings and spirit of the council.

In the same way the Gospel was passed on to new generations of Christians back in the first century, the patrimony of the council has been handed on to my generation so that we might keep the memory alive by living it ourselves. In short, it’s impossible for me to be «Catholic» without being a «Vatican II Catholic.»

ZENIT: John XXIII’s canonization comes somewhat on the heels of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. During the anniversary celebrations, the Church revisited the council documents, and reflected on the manner in which the teachings of the council were implemented in the years that followed. What does his canonization mean for those of us who came of age in the post-council generation?

Gomes: Some people might say that Pope John’s canonization is a sign that Vatican II has been vindicated. I disagree. Of course, Pope John will always be connected with the council. But he did not live long enough to oversee its conclusion, nor did he impress upon the council his own particular judgments or formulations. His canonization is the recognition of his holiness by the people of God, and holiness is not defined by a single action.  

That being said, the fact that his canonization coincides with the 50th anniversary of the council is significant. Both events force us to revisit the council documents and reflect on the manner in which they have been implemented, as you said. For me, the pontificate of Pope Francis 50 years later suggests the vindication of the council more than the canonization of Pope John. In his recent interview with the Jesuit journals, Pope Francis said that, «Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture,” and that this dynamic of re-reading of the Gospel is, “absolutely irreversible.”

In my opinion — and I must speak frankly here — it is impossible to understand the Gospel today outside the framework of the council. Right now there is a tendency in the Church to acknowledge the legitimacy of the council, but ignore its teachings. Pope Francis is saying that the council is more than an ecclesial event of the past. Rather, it is a lens through which we read the Gospel and live the Christian life today. Pope John could not have said that while the council was still in session.

And this brings us to the question of what the council actually said. This is very important. Those same Catholics who tend to ignore the teachings of the council do so because, they say, the documents contain complex theological ideas that have been or can be easily misinterpreted. And this becomes a deterrent from reading the documents themselves and implementing their teachings. In reality, the documents are written in very clear and decisive language.

ZENIT: John XXIII will be canonized along with John Paul II. Is there any significance, would you say, in having these two Popes be canonized together?

Gomes: This is the dominant question surrounding these canonizations. Some people will interpret the celebration as a zero-sum equation: Pope John stands for the council; Pope John Paul II stands for the corrective response to the council. And so by canonizing them together, everything balances out.

But again, this is a narrow understanding of holiness. The two men were very different, even in their pastoral and theological approaches. The significance of their simultaneous canonizations is similar, if I may use this analogy, to the significance of canonizing the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John. Obviously canonize has two distinct meanings here. But both examples reveal the ancient practice in the church of recognizing, or rather exulting, diverse expressions of God’s revelation. The truth about Jesus can be found in both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John, which are very different. Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were also very different, but the people of God have seen the presence of Jesus in each of their lives. And the Church is much richer because of this.

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Ann Schneible

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