John XXIII, Minus the Myths (Part 2)

Interview With Pope’s Great-Nephew Marco Roncalli

ROME, NOV. 26, 2006 ( The Second Vatican Council was not an invention of Pope John XXIII, says his great-nephew Marco Roncalli.

Rather, the Council was “the valuable instrument … [to] interpret in the line of Tradition the role to which [John XXIII] had been called” and “to make the Church advance on her path in step with the world,” insists Roncalli.

He is the author of a new book published in Italian, entitled “Giovanni XXIII — Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. Una vita nella storia” (John XXIII-Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli: A Life in History), published by Mondadori.

In this interview with ZENIT, Marco Roncalli analyzed the focus given to Vatican II by John XXIII. Part 1 of this interview appeared Friday.

Q: What were the Pontiff’s real expectations in regard to Vatican II?

Roncalli: In the last four chapters of the book, in fact, I concentrate on the Council. Based on new sources, I recount how this idea germinated, how it was received.

I follow the venture of Vatican II in the coming to light of the first idea, in the phase that preceded the preparation, in the preparation itself, in the beginning, also talking about a free confrontation — what the Pope called the holy freedom of the children of God — which the whole world witnessed.

And I reflect on the anxieties and consolations of the Pope who every day thought of the Council.

The Council was not his invention. It was a valuable instrument verified by history of the Church which he knew well. The instrument that would have enabled him to interpret — in the line of tradition, but open to updating — the role to which he had been called; an instrument that would have allowed him to make the Church advance on her path in step with the world, questioning the whole episcopate involved in the exercise of collegiality in an extensive “universal” reflection.

But let us go back to the beginning of it all: the idea of the Council. As he stated, it did not ripen within him “as the fruit of a prolonged meditation, but as the spontaneous flower of an unexpected spring.”

Therefore, he applied to himself that rather familiar spiritual rule “of absolute simplicity in accepting divine inspirations, and prompt submission to the apostolic needs of the present time.”

“In announcing the ecumenical Council, we have listened to an inspiration; we have considered its spontaneity, in the humility of our soul,” he said in a message to the Venetian clergy.<br>
It’s true, he had the applause of the secretary of state, Domenico Tardini, as the latter’s diary documents. And there are also the statements of Cardinal Ruffini and of others who maintain — plausible fact — that they suggested to the Pope the idea of a Council, an idea that, moreover, according to several unanimous and concordant statements, Roncalli had also expressed repeatedly during the years of delegation in Istanbul to Monsignor Righi, to Jacquin of the Institut Catholique of the Paris Nunciature, to Monsignor Bortignon of the Venetian Patriarchate, and also to his nephew Privato Roncalli, my father.

We should recall that the convocation of a Council had already been considered at least twice in the 20th century, by Pius XI in 1923 — who then put it to one side awaiting a solution to the “Roman question” — and by Pius XII — to whom in fact Cardinals Ruffini and Ottaviani had written a memorandum enumerating the reasons for a convocation.

There were two outlines, held for a long time in strict secret, for the second of which Monsignor Francesco Borgoncini Duca — a friend of Roncalli, who also might have spoken about it with him, but before 1954, the year when he died — was appointed director general of all the preparatory works.

And this is not all. There were also other prelates in the past who had supported the idea of a Council for a long time as a “necessity” or “wish,” such as Monsignor Celso Constantini, author of a lengthy dossier dated February 15, 1939, and reported under the title “The Council: On the Appropriateness of Convoking an Ecumenical Council.”

A week after Constantini’s reflections, Giovanni Papini wrote in Il Corriere della Sera: “We like to think that the new Pontiff will see to the reopening of the Vatican Council that was suspended on October 20, 1870. (…) Now that the independence and authority of a sovereign have been restored to the Pope, a resumption of the Council interrupted seventy years ago, will take place in a more moderate climate and would be welcomed with very great joy by Catholics worldwide.”

And now we come to the central point: the meaning that John XXIII wished to give, at least in the focus, to “his” Council, something that at the beginning was not at all defined: that it should probably be more pastoral than dogmatic — pastoral, however, but not in a reductive sense.

It should make room to evaluate everything. As Monsignor Dell’Acqua has attested, Pope Roncalli “never thought of opening and closing the Ecumenical Council. Whoever thinks this, is outside of the truth. Pope John told me repeatedly: ‘What matters is to begin; the rest we leave to the Lord’; in how many other circumstances a Pope began a Council that was concluded by another Pope. It was not his intention, therefore, to speed things up.”

When he announced it for the first time, take note, he wrote in his own writing on the text that he invited everyone to pray for “a good beginning, continuation and happy success of these intentions of hard work, for the light, edification and joy of the whole Christian people, as a kind and renewed invitation to our brethren of the separated Churches to take part with us in this encounter of grace and fraternity.”

Moreover, the event of the Council convoked by John XXIII, in keeping with the preceding perspectives and being open to the breath of the Spirit, should manifest to the Church and the world the holy freedom of the children of God, in the sign of a less defensive general vision, […] more open to confidence, respect, to confrontation, to co-responsibility, to the “signs of the times.”

Evaluated carefully, it was also a courageous choice. Conscious of his age, he could have remained tranquil between blessings and canonizations, ordinary activity and the writing of some document, leaving to his successors all the problems that cardinals and bishops put on his desk, and dismissing situations in continual evolution.

Instead, he did the opposite. He addressed everything and not on his own. It was his sensitivity, his historical studies: “A Council is necessary.” He confided to his secretary a “biblical reason” to explain his idea: “Did Jesus ever speak to Peter on his own? No, the other disciples were always present.”

Q: In what ways was Pope John XXIII prophetic?

Roncalli: Suffice it to read his October 11 address with which he opened the Second Vatican Council, a memorable text because of the breadth of its horizon and prophetic inspiration. Do you not perceive in him, in his essence, the force of a religion that unifies?

It was Pope John’s prophetic task, however, to indicate the goal of peace: urgent, which cannot be delayed. … Let us think of his encyclical testament, “Pacem in Terris.”

He is the one who is writing — speaking of himself in that text as “the vicar of Him whom the prophet announced as the Prince of Peace, [we] conceive of it as Our duty to devote all Our thoughts and care and energy to further this common good of all mankind. Yet peace is but an empty word, if it does not rest upon that order which Our hope prevailed upon Us to set forth in outline in this encyclical. It is an order that is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom.”

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