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Bishop Reilly was witness to history

Posted By December 13, 2012 | 12:58 pm | Featured Article #3
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The Council Fathers are here to penetrate the height and depth, the length and breadth of our Holy Faith, which finds its roots in the Holy Gospel – in one word, which is truth and in one truth which is love,” the young priest wrote.
“The Council Fathers meet here to free the Word of God from the heavy chains of materialism and worldliness that modern  society has bound it with.
“From the center of the Council hall, the bishops of the world will bring the Word of God back to their people – the Word of God speaking again above the clamor of the enemies of God. From the Council halls to the hearts of all mankind comes Truth – and he who believes the Truth will be saved.”
That young priest was Father Daniel Patrick Reilly, writing about the Second Vatican Council. That was while he still was a priest in Providence and long before he became Bishop of Norwich, Conn., in 1975 and then Bishop of Worcester in 1994. He retired in 2004 and continues to serve the diocese as bishop emeritus.
But when he was wrote that diary entry on Oct. 25, 1962, he was secretary to Bishop Russell J. McVinny of Providence, whom he accompanied to Rome for the first session of the Second Vatican Council from Oct. 11 to Dec. 8, 1962. He attended every meeting of the council, mornings and afternoons.     Father Reilly had access to the meetings because he was credentialed as Bishop McVinny’s secretary. He also was listed by the Vatican as a member of the working press and had an official press pass to prove it. He filed dispatches  to the Providence Visitor, the newspaper of the Diocese of Providence.  They were published under the title “A Roman Diary.”
They included his descriptions of the sights and sounds  of the Vatican and the city of Rome, the solemnity and pageantry of the opening ceremonies of the Council, the people he and the bishop met from the Providence Diocese and seeing bishops and cardinals – about 2,800 of them – from every corner of the world. And he gave a summary of some of the meetings of the Council in which the bishops and cardinals discussed and voted on the workings of the Church.
His memories of the council are still vivid, as was evident in a recent interview with The Catholic Free Press.
It began, he said, when he got a call from Bishop McVinny in Providence on a Holy Saturday.
“How would you like to go to the Vatical Council II with me?” the bishop asked. Father Reilly jumped at the  chance. It was to be just the 21st Council held in 2,000 years of the Church and he would be witnessing history.
He and Bishop McVinny traveled by ship and arrived in Rome on Oct. 5 or 6, Bishop Reilly said. There were about 40 bishops aboard the ship with their secretaries. Three of those secretaries with whom Father Reilly struck up friendships on that voyage eventually became cardinals. They were Cardinal Humberto Medieros, archbishop of Boston; Cardinal James A. Hickey, archbishop of Washington, and Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore.
When the first session of the Council opened on Oct. 11, 1962, there were about 2,800 bishops and cardinals there from all over the world, the largest gathering of Church leaders in history.
“It was something just to sense the excitement,” Bishop Reilly remembered.
According to his diary entry, the weather was rainy the day before the opening ceremonies and it was feared that the procession would he curtailed. But the next morning “the sun broke through the light clouds and our hearts gladdened,” he wrote. “It seemed like the hand of God blessing the Council’s opening.”
It took the procession of cardinals and bishops, all in white cloaks and mitres, about an hour to cross St. Peter’s Square and file into the Basilica, he said in his recent interview. They were seated on each side of the main aisle. When they were seated, Pope John XXIII, who had called the historic meeting, walked down the aisle to the applause of the cardinals and bishops.
He then knelt and, in the words of Father Reilly’s diary, “recited in a clear, firm voice the profession of faith. What a solemn moment as the words ‘Ergo, Joannes’ rang out through the basilica, and the Holy Father before the assembled bishops of all the world professed his belief in all the truths the Catholic Church teaches.
“Then the Council Fathers made the same profession of faith. Afterwards they were told to sign the profession of faith and these were collected.”
He wrote that he lent his pen to an archbishop from Vietnam to sign the document.
Bishop Reilly remembered that he had a good seat to view the pope at the opening ceremony. He said a cardinal who had a health problem asked for help getting to his seat. Father Reilly sat with him during the ceremony. He had a better seat than Bishop McVinny, who was farther back in the basilica, he said.
And when the meetings broke for lunch that day and the bishops and cardinals, dressed in red, poured out of the basicilica, it looked like a red sea, he said.
He said he thinks the American bishops and cardinals were not as ready for that first session of the Council as were the Europeans. He said the Europeans had worked with French, Belgian and German theologians as they  shaped the documents for discussion.
He mentioned two French theologians influential in preparation for the Council, Henri-Marie de Lubac, a French Jesuit priest, and Yves Marie Joseph Congar, a Dominican priest. Both were considered among the most influential theologians of the 20th Century, according to Church observers, and both later became cardinals.
Bishop Reilly, who studied for the priesthood in France for five years, said he knew Father Congar. He said another of the European theologians who was present as a theological consult and had influence in the Council was Father Joseph Ratzinger of Germany,  who became Pope Benedict XVI.
The Americans had to catch up, and in later sessions did, Bishop Reilly said.
The Second Vatican Council captivated the religious world, Bishop Reilly said. There were many non-Catholic observers at the sessions who were interested in the changes in the Church.
When he got back to Rhode Island, Bishop Reilly said, he spoke about his experiences to many groups, Catholic and non-Catholic, and was enthusiastically received. He said he was welcomed to a large gathering at the Greater Providence YMCA.
“When we were kids we couldn’t go to the ‘Y’,” he said with a smile.
When he spoke in Narragansett he talked with an Episcopal priest, who was nearly in tears.
“Isn’t it wonderful that we can talk together,” the priest said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could celebrate together?”
We’re not there yet, Bishop Reilly said with a smile.
He also spoke at a Congregational Church in Providence. There the minister said, “We know that in the Roman Catholic Church it will take many years to make Pope John XXIII a saint. But we have declared him a saint here tonight.”
Some Catholics, including some priests, had trouble accepting the changes Vatican II brought to the Church, he said. They didn’t want to leave the Latin and the familiar form of the Mass. But over the years people have adjusted and feel more at home with the Mass in English. They understand the Mass better.
“I wouldn’t want to go back,” he said.

Pope John XXIII wanted church to engage the world in positive way

By Edward P. Hahnenberg

On Jan. 25, 1959, before a small group of cardinals gathered in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the newly elected Pope John XXIII announced his intention to call a council. It would become the Second Vatican Council.
The announcement caught everyone by surprise. First of all, an ecumenical (or “worldwide”) council such as Vatican II is a rare event in the life of the church. Catholics count only 21 such councils in the church’s 2,000-year history. Since the Protestant Reformation 400 years ago, there have been only two such councils. An announcement like Pope John’s does not come along every day.
Another cause for surprise had to do with the reason for a new council. Previous councils were all called to respond to some threat facing the church. The Council of Nicaea, for example, was convoked in 325 to address the Arian heresy that was tearing the church apart. Similarly, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) was an attempt to answer the challenge of the Reformation.
When Pope John made his announcement, no such threat loomed on the horizon. No obvious enemy mobilized Vatican II.
Instead, Pope John said that the idea for the council came to him as a divine inspiration, “like a flash of heavenly light.” In his announcement, he chose not to identify problems. Rather, he named two positive goals. The first was to promote “the enlightenment, edification and joy” of the entire church. The second was to reach out to other Christians in a spirit of reconciliation.
The reason for the council was proactive, not reactive. Pope John framed its purpose in the positive terms of hope and opportunity, rather than the negative terms of danger and threat.
This basic posture gave Vatican II the freedom to consider a wide array of concerns. One of the first things Pope John did was send an open-ended letter to all of the world’s bishops, asking for suggestions for the agenda. As the council unfolded, the language of collaboration, cooperation and dialogue took center stage. In the end, the breadth of topics treated and the positive tone of its final documents set Vatican II apart from all previous ecumenical councils.
When Vatican II began in October of 1962, the Catholic Church stood as a bulwark against the world. At the grass-roots level, the Catholic experience was marked by a rich devotional life, regular sacramental practice and consistent catechesis. Vocations climbed, religious life flourished. The postwar boom, particularly in the United States, brought a period of construction and institutional expansion as schools, hospitals, seminaries and parishes grew.
If this grass-roots vitality fed the faith of thousands, it also kept Catholics somewhat on the margins, separated from the broader society within which they lived.
At the upper levels of the Vatican, this separation took the form of a defensive and reactionary stance toward all things “modern.” Ever since the French Revolution, with its violent and anti-clerical cast, the papacy had thrown up the defenses. Statements from the Vatican condemned new democratic movements, new scientific theories, new currents in art and culture.
All of these developments were seen as an assault on the authority of the pope and a threat to the ancient truths of the tradition. Such a siege mentality continued well into the 20th century.
In this context, Pope John’s vision came as a breath of fresh air. In his opening speech at the council, the pope publicly disagreed with those “prophets of gloom” around him who saw in modern times only “prevarication and ruin.” Instead, the pope believed, God was moving humanity to a new order of human relations. The church needed aggiornamento – or “updating” – not because the church felt threatened but because of its great desire to share Christ with others.
John XXIII was no naive optimist. As a papal diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey and postwar France, he had seen the horrors of war and the tremors shaking Europe to its core. He became pope in the shadow of the Holocaust, amid the dismantling of colonialism, the rise of the Cold War and on the cusp of a technological transformation unlike anything the world had seen since the Industrial Revolution.
What is remarkable is that Pope John – and by extension the Second Vatican Council – did not retreat from the challenges of the times. His experience taught him that the church cannot escape the world or simply pronounce judgment on it.
Instead, the church must engage the world in a positive way, he said. He encouraged the council to use “the medicine of mercy rather than of severity.” We must demonstrate the truth of our teaching and not simply condemn those who disagree, he thought. In the end, the church should “show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness” toward all, he said.