The "great expectations of the Ecumenical Council"
Jubilee 2000 Search


Andrea Riccardi

What does it mean for a single bishop to live the Council, coming to Rome in the first half of October 1962? The first impact of the bishops with the other prelates is important, in a new Councilary Rome, with respect to the previous knowledge that the fathers may have had with the city and the curia. One month before the opening of Vatican II, John XXIII had spoken to the faithful of all the world with a radio message. The Pope was stimulated by some worrying notes written by cardinals frightened at the idea of a rapid Council, very ceremonial and condemning. In his speech, he spoke about "great expectations of the ecumenical Council". For the bishops that came to Rome that Council was - according to the words of Pope John - a way to renew the mission of the church in front of the problems of the world, in front of the poor world, in front of the yearning of peace in the world. John XXIII picked an historic reference that transcended the confines of ecclesiastic chronology. The Council, suggested the Pope, would open 17 years from the end of the Second World War: "the mothers and fathers of families detest war: the Church, mother of all, without distinction, will uplift once again the acclimation that comes from the bottom of the centuries and from Bethlehem..."

To the bishops and the faithful on the margins of the international theater, John XXIII spoke of a "mother" Church, according to an ancient stereotype, but also of a "Church that is and wants to be for everyone, and especially the Church of the poor". These words contributed to create a climate of "expectations" even amongst the bishops. They were called by John XXIII to respond to these "expectations" and to understand the new prospects of the mission of the Church in the world. But was it a creative initiative or was it support to some lines already clear but not understood? Realizing this goal was not simple especially for an Episcopal body so vast, not accustomed to work collegially and in assembly. The majority of the fathers came to Rome with uncertainty, without knowing what exactly their role would be. Generally, in fact, they came to the Vatican to resolve the questions with the authority of the Holy See and of its offices. The same Apostolic nuncios or delegates, with whom the episcopate had been in contact, did not have a clear idea of what Vatican II would be.

...The wait and the interrogations were accompanied also by a certain curiosity as to where the Council would be carried out. The Councilar hall occupied for the first time the central nave of the Basilica of Saint Peter's, and was not in the transept as was the case during Vatican I...

...The bishops did not have upclose and personal experience with the parliamentary assemblies that characterized Western democracies. The democratic experiences in Italy and in Germany were too fresh to have assimilated the bishops profoundly in the practice, while such experience was completely absent in Spain, in Portugal, in Eastern Europe, in several countries of Latin America and in the young Southern countries of the world. Even if the Council was not the parliament of the Church, the familiarity with the methods of voting, with democratic systems, and with the formations of majorities and minorities, could have helped to express the dynamics of a grand assembly which -- according to tradition -- was called upon to make choices by way of a vote by its components. Was the vote meant to express the will of the fathers or rather should the vote solely have adhered to the indications of the Holy See? The Vatican Council I was regulated by the vote of its members. The same process of the Roman congregations foresaw the vote of its members: but their result was subordinated to the decision of the Pope. Should the Council have expressed its vote clearly?...

(from Storia del Concilio Vaticano II "Story of the Vatican II Council" by Giuseppe Alberigo)