Inside the synod: Celebrating Vatican II, launching Year of Faith

By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
One in a series

Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

VATICAN CITY — Today the bishops dressed in miter and green vestments streamed down the center aisle in the Square of St. Peter on a strikingly beautiful day of bright sunlight and deep blue skies. As I walked in procession looking up at the newly restored facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, I thought how fitting it was that we were celebrating outside of the basilica for this 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the opening of the Year of Faith. After all, the beloved Pope John XXIII had called the council to open the windows and let fresh air into the church.

Here we were in the world, in its midst with occasional sirens blaring and noises of every kind, not within the walls of the Basilica. Vatican II taught us that the church is not set over and above the world, not antagonistic to the world but the breath of the world, meant to transform the world into the world God intends it to be. We celebrated that symbolically, bringing to the world the praise and glory of God .

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 11 to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The Mass also opened the Year of Faith. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As we processed, I imagined the procession of bishops 50 years before as the council began. A few of them were in our midst. Surely those bishops as they celebrated the opening Mass of the council with Blessed John XXIII must have been wondering what would happen, what would unfold. No council had been held in anyone’s memory. Yet they were making history, bringing the church into a new era.

Through their deliberations, discussions, and writing, profound documents were produced including “Lumen Gentium” and “Gaudium et Spes” on the church, “Dei Verbum” on revelation, and “Sacrosanctum Concilium” on the sacred liturgy.

Pope Benedict XVI exchanges the sign of peace with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Looking ahead I saw on the dais, near to where the pope would sit, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholmew I. He is the successor of St. Andrew and the 240th person to hold the title of Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. He is “primus inter pares” (first among equals). He promotes and sustains unity in the Eastern Orthodox communion numbering about 300 million congregants

On the other side of the pope’s place was Archbishop Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. I could only think of the incredible energy that came out of Vatican II for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue as well as the call for religious liberty, both of which remain challenges today. The document “Unitatis Reintegratio” on ecumenical dialogue and “Dignitatis Humanae” on religious liberty were ground-breaking documents that gave direction for the church’s agenda.

It was moving to see Archbishop Williams and Patriarch Bartholomew embrace as brothers before the Mass and Pope Benedict’s embrace of each of them during Mass. While our Christian faith remains divided, perhaps this celebration, remembering Vatican II, will stir the embers, giving new energy and life to the dialogues, which although now more difficult, are still important. The disunity of the Christian faith is scandalous and exactly what the Lord prayed at the Last Supper would not happen.

The Holy Father in his homily referred to the rich thought and clear articulation of the church’s continuous teaching that can be found in the documents of Vatican II. He indicated that he has called for a Year of Faith to inspire us again to encounter Jesus Christ and to realize the new evangelization which has been a major theme of his pontificate,

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., center, arrives with other bishops for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

This Year of Faith is a marvelous opportunity for all dioceses to reinvigorate the faith. In the Diocese of Tucson three words describe my hopes for this Year of Faith: Awaken, Discover, Inspire. Through this year we will hold activities to awaken the faith in those who are practicing their faith by deepening, enriching, and strengthening our relationships with Jesus Christ. We will seek to discover anew what the church teaches and strive to inspire others to come to know Jesus Christ by the way we live our lives. The year will be an opportunity to learn the history of our diocese and of each parish so all can understand how the faith was planted in this area. It will also be an opportunity to share our faith journeys with one another and to study the documents of Vatican II. We will also engage in a diocese-wide service project in which all of us throughout a large geographic diocese will join together as one to serve others.

While I feel badly not to be in the Diocese of Tucson when we begin the Year of Faith the weekend of Oct. 13-14, it was a joy to join the universal church as our Holy Father launched the Year of Faith in St. Peter’s Square.

At the end of Mass Bartholomew I spoke in Italian of the importance of this occasion and the need to seek unity and dispel differences. He spoke of the historical significance of this event commemorating the 50th anniversary and the deep regard and respect he holds for the Holy Father.

The service concluded with the Holy Father meeting groups who represented the categories of people Vatican II spoke to: rulers, scholars and scientists, artists, women, the poor, sick and suffering, workers, artists, and the youth. He gave each member of the group the text of what was directed to these groups at the time of Vatican II and to some he gave a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church since we are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of its promulgation by Blessed John Paul II.

While 50 years have passed since these exhortations were written and so much has changed, many texts are exactly what one would write today. For example, to the young of the world the council wrote, “It is you who are to receive the torch from the hands of your elders and to live in the world at the period of the most gigantic transformation ever realized in history. … The church is anxious that this society that you are going to build up should respect the dignity, the liberty, and the rights of individuals. … Open your hearts to the dimensions of the world, to heed the appeal of your brothers, to place your youth energies at their service.”

Pope Benedict XVI greets the faithful as he arrives to celebrate a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

The afternoon continued the interventions by the synod fathers. While many themes are beginning to recur, it is interesting to watch, on the screen in the front of the room, the enthusiasm and conviction with which each synod father presents his text. Clearly each one has thought seriously about what he wants to say to the whole body and he desires earnestly to make a contribution.

Among the common themes I am hearing are the following: the need to evangelize the evangelizers, priests and seminarians; the importance of reaching out to youth and families; and to make efforts to strengthen marriage. There is a hunger in human beings that only God can fill. We seek a relationship with Christ who alone brings joy. We need to be a humble church. Evangelization begins with each one of us. Our parishes must become evangelizing. There is a value to the ecclesial movements but they must be integrated with parish life. We need to see the importance and make better use of the new technologies. If we would evangelize we must be a serving church which leads others to the church. We recognize the importance of the lay faithful in the evangelization of the world. We must value contemplation, listening and silence. We need to recover the ecumenical dimensions of Vatican II and the call to unity in which we all need one another in our diversity of cultures and languages. It would be powerful to consider our own experiences of evangelization and communicate our own faith journeys, giving personal witness to the vitality of faith in our own lives. Another theme that surfaces from time to time in the discussions is the need to uphold the freedom of conscience and of religion especially in those areas of the world where public practice of religion is so restricted or conversion is not allowed.

We need to keep listening in the days ahead in order to develop helpful proposals for the Holy Father’s consideration in writing his post-synodal exhortation.

Bishop Kicanas, of Tucson, Ariz., is chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services and is a former vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also a former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee, he is blogging from the world Synod of Bishops this month by special arrangement with Catholic News Service. He was elected an alternate delegate to the synod by the U.S. bishops and became a full delegate when Cardinal Francis E. George was unable to attend.

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