Vatican II at 50, a gift from God misunderstood by conservatives and progressives
by Piero Gheddo
A direct participant in the Council highlights the positive work of the ecumenical conference in boosting the Church's mission to the world. Traditionalist and progressive interpretations that developed after the event do not weaken its value and importance for today.

Milano (AsiaNews) - The Second Vatican Council is 50 years old. The first session opened on 11 October 1962. To mark the anniversary next October, Benedict XVI has declared a Year of Faith to enhance our understanding of the core of the faith of the Catholic Church, that world, but also Christians have too often demeaned, divided or ignored. Vatican 2 played a key role in renewing the place of faith in contemporary society even though different and opposite interpretations might weaken its legacy and value. This year, AsiaNews will present various authors who will testify to the meaning of the Council. We begin with a brief text by Fr Piero Gheddo.

Some friends read my blog and write to me at gheddo.piero@pime.org. From Turin (Italy), Claudio Dalla Costa wrote, "Dear Father Piero, I always like to read your blogs, especially what you wrote about Fr Clemente Vismara, a really great guy. You should write an article on the importance of the Second Vatican Council and its beneficial changes compared to pre-Council times. Too many people have a fundamentalist view of the faith and are giving the Council a bad rap, going against the magisterium of the last five popes. Ours is a time of great confusion in the Church. The clash between progressives and conservatives could overshadow the importance of an event that has marked the history of the contemporary Church. Thank you. Sincerely Yours."

I lived through Vatican 2 in Rome as writer for the Osservatore Romano and a correspondent for the daily L'Italia (today's Avvenire). I also served an "expert" for the Decree on mission (Ad Gentes), after John XXIII appointed me in February 1962.

My dear Claudio, it is hard to say much in just one or two pages. For us young priests (I was ordained in 1953), the Council was a time of enthusiasm for the faith and the universal mission. The Church was being rejuvenated. Some 1,800 bishops from around the world provided a sharp image to the diversity and liveliness of Christ's flock. The discussions and the decrees (the first one was on the liturgy) embodied the tendency to lead Christian life towards fulfilling Christ's mandate: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature."

At the end of the first session of the Council (October-December 1962), I wrote in Le Missioni Cattoliche (today's Mondo e Missione), where I was still the editor, "The Council has already clearly defined its goals, on which all the proceedings are focused, namely the renewal of pastoral work for the re-Christianisation of the Christian world, the rapprochement of divided Brothers with Union as the goal, and a clear overture to all [of society's] problems in order to extend the Kingdom of Christ to all peoples and nations of the earth" (Le Missioni Cattoliche, January 1963, 5).

Other aspects of the Council bolstered my optimistic reading of the Church's mission, at least from the point of view of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission (PIME), an Ad gentes missionary institution:

-     "Discovering" dialogue with other religions no longer seen as the enemies of Christ, but in preparation for Christ.

-     Confirming Pius XII's idea found in the Fidei Donum encyclical (1957) that the whole Church has a missionary vocation, and that it partakes in the mission to the nations (dioceses, parishes, religious institution, lay associations, etc).

-     Promoting native clergy and the missionary nature of local Churches in the missions, which need missionaries but must also be involved in the mission to the nations.

-     Upholding the notion of "diversity in unity," which characterised the growth of young Churches (n. 22 Ad gentes), embodied in the concept of the "inculturation of the faith" in the cultures and religious histories of the world's peoples. "Christian life will be accommodated to the genius and the dispositions of each culture."

-     Exalting the specific ad gentes "special missionary vocation" (ns 23 and 24) and other aspects of the decree.

A cacophony of voices developed after the Council, not of its own volition since the Council was and remains a wonderful epic of the Holy Spirit, but because various factions and schools of thought pulled its texts and the will of the Council Fathers in various directions, either towards a return to the past or along a so-called "progressive" path. I clearly remember, after the Council, when the implementation of its work had not yet commenced, how some who were already calling for a Third Vatican Council to reform the Church and others were saying that "it would take 50 years to undo the damages wrought by Vatican 2."

We should not judge anyone. We must say that post-Council popes have often and strongly argued that the Church, to evangelise, must apply the Council's propositions. We can draw three conclusions from the situation:

1)  Those "Conservatives" who dream about a return to the past have no faith in the Holy Spirit and the divinity and sacredness of the Church. They lack faith, not in the men of the Church like us sinners, but in the Church as an institution that comes from God and enjoys the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Placing our trust in God is such a beautiful thing. Conservatives do not understand that the Church is an institution rooted in history, one that follows history and adapts to the times. It cannot stand still or go back. The Church moves with the times because today it must open its arms to the men and women of our time, not those of centuries ago.

2)  So-called "progressives" do not understand that the Church evolves with the times whilst maintaining its unity. The basis for our unity is obedience to the Church, under the guidance of the pope and the bishops, united in Peter and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Some people say they follow their conscience. Very well. But our conscience must be informed by faith; otherwise, we find ourselves in the extreme fragmentation that characterises the Churches and sects born out of the reformation. "Only the Bible and one's own conscience" leads to this.

3)  Reforms in the Church are above all the work of saints. The closer we sinners come to Christ's ways, the greater our contribution to the reformation of the Church, which "semper reformanda est" in accordance with the work of the Holy Spirit, not of our own biases.

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