2013-02-04 08:19:20

Card. Gracias: Golden treasures of Vatican II for Church in Asia

(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai and President of the Indian Bishops Conference closed an International Conference on Vatican II in Bangalore, India with a call to Church leaders in Asia to dig deeper into the ‘golden treasures’ of the great ecumenical council.

"Revisiting Vatican II: 50 years of renewal" was the theme of the international conference organized by the Pontifical University of Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law in Bangalore "Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram" (DVK), under the auspices of the Theology Journal "Asian Horizons ". More than 300 experts and bishops met in the week long conference for an in-depth critical reflection on the impact of the Council on universal Church with special attention to the Churches in Asia.

Below we publish the full text of the Cardinal’s intervention:

The Golden Treasures of the Second Vatican Council and the Gift of Faith

Oswald Cardinal Gracias
Gaudet Mater Ecclesia hac in celebratione. Our Mother the Church rejoices in this celebration. These were the first words of the homily preached by Blessed Pope John XXIII fifty years ago at the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. They remind us that above everything else, a Council is the celebration of the faith of the Church. We can say that the Universal Church rejoices, and especially, the Church in Asia and the Church in India on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Second Vatican Council. In a particular way for the Church in India, the message and teachings of the Council constitute a blueprint for renewal.

Called by Pope John XXIII, this 21st Ecumenical Council of the Church (which shall henceforth be called Vatican II) was the most significant religious event in the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century. Vatican II was not only the largest of the twenty-one ecumenical councils, it was also the most culturally diverse. The Pope set two main goals for the Council: to bring the presentation of the Church’s doctrine up to date and to promote the unity of Christians. The invitation to Protestants, Orthodox and other non-Catholics to attend the Council gave it a unique and historic value. The Council solemnly began on October 11, 1962, the feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Article 44 of Gaudium et Spes invokes the Holy Spirit for all the deliberations: “With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and Theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set for to greater advantage”.

Blessed Pope John Paul II remarked that "Vatican II remains the fundamental event of the life of the contemporary Church; fundamental for the deepening of the richness given to them by Christ; fundamental for the fecundal contact with the contemporary world in a prospective of evangelization and of dialogue on every level with all men of attentive consciences". He said that the Council "prepared the Church for the passage from the second millennium to the third millennium after the birth of Christ". 70 of the 78 Indian Bishops attended the first session of the Council. On 23 November 1962, Pope John XXIII met the Indian Bishops. Being aware and concerned about the social and economic conditions of India, the Pope expressed the hope that in the course of time, India would overcome some of its problems. The Church as a whole, and particularly in India, has seen positive changes as a result of Vatican II. Cardinal Valerian Gracias affirmed that Vatican II desired “a thorough renewal of Christian life to answer the claims of God and the needs of the modern world. Archbishop Eugene D’Souza who welcomed the change brought about by Vatican II, especially the document Gaudium et Spes remarked: “The Church’s whole approach to the world is one of sincere admiration, not of dominating it, but of serving it, not of despising it but of appreciating it, not of condemning it but of strengthening it and saving it”. The Council changed the way the faith engages the modern world. For example, before the Council, you could not attend the wedding or the funeral of a friend or relative in a Protestant Church. The Council was for most Catholics a breath of fresh air and it opened up avenues for them to think critically, intelligently and thoughtfully about their religious tradition. The Church affirmed religious liberty, condemned anti-Semitism, highlighted common ground with other Christian churches, encouraged dialogue with people of other religions and championed human dignity. Religious life changed dramatically, as religious orders adopted norms of Vatican II and rewrote their own constitutions. Liturgical participation increased tremendously in many local churches. The council restored the permanent diaconate as a ministry and allowed married men to be ordained deacons. The collective experience of bishops from different parts of the world sharing their experiences in the Council made them conscious of their collegiality and collective responsibility in the mission of the Universal Church.

The Uniqueness of Vatican II
Vatican II, though it maintained continuity with previous councils, was unique in many ways. Its style was invitational and pastoral. It moved away from all the previous councils which used technical, juridical and punitive language. As Pope John XXIII himself told the council that the church wanted to offer the modern world the "medicine of mercy rather than that of severity … demonstrating the validity of her teachings rather than that of condemnations”. It used a language of interiority, asking people to appropriate the perennial Christian values. Unlike previous councils, Vatican II attached no penalties for failure to observe its directives. Instead of anathemas and excommunications, it used pleasant words such as sisters and brothers and men and women of goodwill. The style the council adopted was based, as was the style of the early Fathers of the Church, on the art of persuasion and the art of finding common ground. It looked to winning assent to its teachings rather than imposing it. The Council’s decision to positively engage the modern world, constituted a reversal from earlier papal policy. For the first time in the history of the Church, the Council spoke of the universal call to holiness. Most experts state that the council's biggest achievement was a new way of understanding the church, namely, as the "people of God" and not simply a hierarchical structure.

The years between Vatican Council I (1869-70) and Vatican Council II, almost one hundred years later, produced a major change in the way theology was done. To meet the crisis of faith and to tell the Christian story in a faithful, credible and intelligible manner that would transform people’s hearts, the theologians at Vatican II who were attuned to the Spirit of God in the world produced a religious revitalization of theology especially with regard to the church’s attitude toward the world, toward the laity and toward itself. They were convinced that theology needs to dialogue with the contemporary world in a language of life, a language that men and women of any generation can understand. The German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who served as a peritus, a theological expert at the Council, saw the Council as having even more importance than those participating realized or intended. He said that in Vatican II the Catholic Church had made a “qualitative leap” towards becoming a “world-church” as according to him, the Church had previously been too much culturally tied to Europe and North America. Vatican II was the first ecumenical council that Asian Bishops took part in, though the actual number of Asian Bishops were relatively small. When the council opened on 11 October 1962, out of the 2,449 participants of the first period of the Council, 298 came from Asia. In the fourth and last period, of the 2625 participants, 311 came from Asia. It is perhaps worth noting that the proportion of Asian bishops remained substantially the same.

The Eucharistic Congress in Bombay: At the end of the Third Session of the Council
After the Third Session of the Council, Pope John XXIII chose the city of Bombay as the venue for the 38th Eucharistic Congress (28 November to 6 December 1964). However, on the death of Pope John XXIII, it was actually Pope Paul VI who came to Bombay as a pilgrim of peace, of joy, of serenity and love. Cardinal Valerian Gracias was the Chief organizer and I was fortunate to be one of those who helped out in the Congress. It was attended by 20 Cardinals, 300 Bishops, 1000 priests, 4000 nuns and 2,00,000 faithful. The message of the Congress was ‘the call to universal love’, where the love of Christ was the principal force for the bond of union created to serve the whole of humanity. Catholics joined hands with people of other faiths for the success of the Congress. Some of the Vatican Council’s reforms were implemented here. Thus, the Indian Church had the unique opportunity to witness the reform and renewal offered by the aggiornamento of the Council.

For the first time the Church in India was privileged to enjoy the fruits of reform initiated by the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Concelebrating and congregational singing were introduced in the Eucharistic Congress. Masses were celebrated both in the Eastern and the Western rites (Latin, Syro-Malabar, Syro Malankara, Maronite, Melkite, Byzantine, Chaldean and Armenian) showing the truly international character of the event. Along with English, Hindi and other Indian languages were made use of in the celebrations.

The Eucharistic Congress was a challenge to Christians in India where religious practice often failed to touch their social, economic and professional life. It was hoped that the Congress would foster an ecumenical dialogue with non-Catholics and greater understanding with people of other religions. Dr. Zakir Hussein, the Vice President of India appreciated both the aims of the Congress, namely, spiritual renewal and creation of the greater awareness of social responsibilities and of our obligation to our fellowmen. In his speech to the representatives of the non-Christian religions, Pope Paul VI highlighted the new approach of the Church towards non-Christians. He even quoted the Upanishads: “From the unreal, lead me to the real; from darkness lead me to light; from death, lead me to immortality”. However, the Pope stated that in this sincere dialogue with non-Christians, the Catholic Church must remain faithful to Christ and his Gospel, to what was received from the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church.

Both the National and International media referred to the Eucharistic Congress as the Congress of the Council where “the Church appeared to the world, through the great communications media used with such effect in Bombay, as the praying Church, the servant Church, the Church going forth with outstretched arms to the whole world, Christian and non-Christian alike”. This International Eucharistic Congress was unique because of the presence of Pope Paul VI and its relationship with the Vatican Council. Archbishop Nicodemo who summed up the relationship of the Congress to the Council stated that “the Congress of Bombay will have … beneficial repercussions for the future evangelization of Asia and of the entire non-Christian world, in the light of and with the impetus given by the Council”. He stated that the Congress was pastoral, ecumenical and missionary. Cardinal Valerian Gracias affirmed that the Congress gave the Church in India an all-round impetus. On the occasion of a Symposium with major Indian religions, Cardinal König told the participants that Vatican II not only expressed its respect for Hinduism and its indefectible search for God but also affirmed a deep appreciation of Islam. He stressed the need of dialogue in the spirit of the Indian dictum Satyam Eva Jayate (Truth alone triumphs) and the Gandhian principle of ahimsa (to do no harm or non violence).

Influence of the Council:
The Church made some progress in ecumenism by engaging in noteworthy dialogue with Lutheran, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches. The Council also contributed to positive relations with other religions. One sees Pope John Paul II paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi as a man of true religious inspiration and also by having meetings with the Dalai Lama. Also, due to Vatican II’s new emphasis on the role of the laity in the life and mission of the Church, many Catholics got more deeply involved in problems of justice and peace in the world.

Many experts list the Council's biggest achievement as a new way of understanding the Church as the "people of God", as a "sacrament" to the world and having a responsible mission in society. The universal call to holiness in Lumen Gentium was a remarkable moment for the Church. In this regard, the document encouraged Pastors of parishes “to recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign offices to them in the service of the Church, leaving them freedom and scope for activity. Indeed, they should encourage them to take on work on their own initiative”. This should be especially true in areas where the laity “to the extent of their knowledge, competence or authority, … are entitled, and indeed sometimes duty-bound, to express their opinion on matters which concern the good of the Church". Vatican II was the first ecumenical council in the history of the Church to deal with the topic of the laity. The term lay person occurs 206 times in the council’s documents and all the references are constructive. Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity had its roots in Lumen Gentium chapter 4 where we find the beginnings of a theological foundation for the lay apostolate. In the last two decades, more and more laity are being educated and formed in ecclesial disciplines. Collaboration with an educated laity is essential for creating true partnership in mission.

There has also been significant growth in Lay Movements such as the Small Christian Communities. The ecclesial movements and communities express a key notion contained in Dei Verbum, namely, the People of God’s continuous renewal within the continuity of the great Tradition of the Church. The Vatican Council urges pastors to discover and heed the charisms that the Spirit of God bestows on the Church. New forms of charismatic experience, of community structures, of lay participation and commitment to the poor and social justice can be gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the reception of them can be part of the reception of the Council. These ecclesial movements have made a significant impact in India.

The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) constituted an important pillar of Vatican II. All the documents depend on faith in God’s word to us, which the Council has spelled out in this Constitution. It speaks of the divine revelation that gives the church its direction and nourishes its life. It identified both scripture and tradition as instruments for transmitting divine revelation. According to Dei Verbum, scripture is “the utterance of God as it is set down in writing under the guidance of God’s Spirit” and Tradition “preserves the word of God as it was entrusted to the apostles by Christ our Lord and the Holy Spirit”. The Constitution insists that both are to be acknowledged and respected with the same fidelity because “tradition and scripture together form a single sacred deposit of the word of God, entrusted to the church”. With Vatican II’s approval of the contemporary tools of biblical analysis, Catholic biblical scholars felt encouraged to use the historical-critical method and other interpretative tools in interpreting the meaning of scripture and as a consequence nurturing the faith.

In the past, the spiritual riches contained in the Bible were often neglected. When the Mass used to be celebrated in Latin, many people could not understand its significance. Even in Catholic theology, the Bible was viewed as a remote source of doctrine. Dei Verbum emphasized that tradition and scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. It insists that the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of theology. It stated that the “Magisterium is not superior to the word of God, but rather its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devoutly, guards it reverently and expounds it faithfully. The constitution powerfully affirmed that the Church has always venerated the divine scriptures as it has venerated the Body of the Lord and strongly urged that access to it ought to be widely available to the Christian faithful. Since then, there has been a deeper appreciation of Scripture in the life of the Church. As St. Jerome reminds us that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. The Biblical apostolate has become active in many dioceses. There are many lay people thirsting for the Word of God and attending biblical courses, prayer groups, retreats and the like.

The final document of the Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes is the Magna Carta of Christian hope. It clearly states that Jesus Christ is the answer to man's most profound questions about the meaning of life. By his incarnation, Christ has united himself with every man and through his life, death and resurrection, the possibility of salvation for all humans becomes a reality. It vividly states that the Church has a mission to the rest of humanity. The Church exists primarily to be at the service of humanity. In Gaudium et Spes the Church proposes to enter into dialogue with the world “in order to help shed light on the mystery of humanity, and to cooperate in finding solutions to the problems of our times”. Gaudium et Spes’ call for solidarity remains a powerfully relevant ethical and theological resource. It calls all people of goodwill to work together to create social conditions consonant with the dignity of every human person. It offers us a new way of looking at the world, of caring for the world and of serving the world. It is important to note that the Council underlined the church's solidarity with humanity instead of its separation from the secular world, and this led to the rapid increase of social and benevolent activities. Often Church leaders addressed issues on the church's concern and solidarity for the poor and suffering.

The conclusion of the document ended with the plea: “It is the Father’s will that we should recognize Christ our brother in the persons of all men and women and should love them with an active love, in word and in deed, thus bearing witness to the truth; and it is his will that we should share with others the mystery of his heavenly love. In this way people all over the world will awaken to a lively hope, the gift of the Holy Spirit, that they will one day be admitted to the haven of surpassing peace and happiness in their homeland radiant with the glory of the Lord” (GS 93). The document contains some of the most significant statements concerning the dignity of the human person and the social mission and obligation of everyone to work for the common good. It presents solidarity as the key for living an authentic Christian and human life.

The Gift of Faith:
Right from the beginning of his ministry, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the need to rediscover one’s journey of faith so as to shed clearer light on renewed enthusiasm of one’s encounter with Christ and to gain an understanding of how the Church continues Christ’s mission of redemption.
Hence, the Holy Father has launched a Year of Faith to help us appreciate the gift of faith, to deepen our relationship with God and to strengthen our commitment to sharing our faith with others. He chose to begin his Year of Faith on 11 October 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II to "provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the council fathers which 'have lost nothing of their value or brilliance'. The Year of Faith will be a great grace for the entire Church, and it will help each member of the Church understand anew, or for the first time, how it was and is that the Second Vatican Council sought to make the Church’s venerable teachings more understandable and meaningful in a world of rapid change.

The starting date of the Year of Faith also marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI described the Catechism as "an authentic fruit of the Second Vatican Council"; and elsewhere in the same document he called it as "one of the most important fruits of the Second Vatican Council". The Catechism according to Pope John Paul II is meant to show “the power and beauty of the faith” as it truly expresses what could be called “the symphony of the faith”. He termed the Catechism as a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic Teaching. His said so beautifully that in reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church we can perceive the wonderful unity of the mystery of God. The Catechism is a synthesis of the faith, conveying the 'melodious symphony of revealed truth' that originates from God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit".

According to the Pope’s Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, the 2012 Year of Faith is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world.” In other words, it is an opportunity for as Christians to experience a conversion - to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him. It is also an invitation to each one of us to retrace the history of our faith with "our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the 'pioneer and perfecter of our faith'"

In scripture we learn that the Apostles: “…called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” (Acts 14:27). To open the door of faith to people of every place and time is primarily the task of God Himself! If we lose sight of the ‘primacy’ of God’s Work, whatever effort we employ will be destined to not bring forth the desired fruit. It is God who opens the door of faith to our human brothers and sisters, and He does it, primarily, through His only Son. God has opened the “door of faith” for each one of us at our baptism (Rom 6: 4) and that door will always remain open for us, constantly inviting us into a life of communion with God. During this year of faith, we are called to walk through that door again and rediscover, renew and deepen our relationship with Christ and his Church. Pope Benedict remarked that “Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy”. The Year of Faith is meant to be a year dedicated to the rediscovery of the joy of believing and the renewed enthusiasm for encountering Christ the Lord.

It is unfortunate that many Catholics do not know what the Catholic Church actually teaches. Many Catholics are only Sunday Catholics, and their faith has little or no relevance to their lives. This has led to what the fathers of the Second Vatican Council warned of - the "greatest error of our age, the separation between faith and life." Pope Benedict aptly remarked that we are before a “growing religious illiteracy found in the midst of our sophisticated society. The foundations of faith, which at one time every child knew, are now known less and less. But if we are to live and love our faith, if we are to love God and to hear him aright, we need to know what God has said to us – our minds and hearts must be touched by his word.” “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples”. An important way to overcome religious illiteracy is proper catechesis.

The Year of Faith will be not so much a celebration as a missionary event - precisely in the perspective of the mission ad gentes and the new evangelization. The year of Faith will be an important step of purification and waiting for a new evangelization of the world, as Pope Benedict wrote in Porta Fidei: “It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied”. We need to turn back to the Credo to rediscover its riches. Faith is not a private act and implies public testimony and commitment. “Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him. Faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes”. The renewal of faith must be a priority for the entire Church.

The Year of Faith which is founded on the Second Vatican Council takes seriously the conviction of the Council Fathers of the obligation of the Church and every Christian to faithfully and enthusiastically proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

Vatican II has never been more relevant than it is at this moment in the history of the church. However, it is in need of further implementation. There is much more to be done with regard to receiving and living what the council taught and stood for. To re-read and to rediscover the Council, in all its prophetic and missionary worth, is one of the main urgent tasks in the Church today. The lively, ongoing, Spirit-led process of appropriating as a whole the vision and implications in doctrine and practice of the council is far from complete. As the late Cardinal Franz König, archbishop of Vienna wrote in the London Tablet in 2002: “The crucial process of reception, that all-important part of any church council, can take several generations. It continues today”. This ‘new Pentecost’ in the church depends not simply on the ‘institutional’ church but on the church as a whole. It was Pius XII who said that the laity are the Church in the world. Since Vatican II there has been an emergence of a large variety and ministries for the laity.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a few days before his election as Benedict XVI remarked: “What we need at this time of history, are people, who, through a faith which is enlightened and lived out in practice, make God credible in this world … We need people who keep their gaze fixed upon God, learning from there what true humanity is. We need people whose intellect is enlightened by the light of God and whose hearts God may open up in such a way that their intellect may speak to the intellect of others and that their hearts may open the hearts of others. Only through people who are touched by God can God return to humanity”.

The Church in Asia and India is constantly facing many challenges where our faith lives are put to the test. In this regard, I would like to encourage every believer and all our Christian communities and institutions everywhere to continue reflecting on their faith lives, being firm in their faith, witnessing their faith, deepening their faith and proclaiming their faith. We must profess the faith with renewed conviction, with confidence and with hope. We must not lose heart because where there is God, there is future. Pope Benedict XVI expressed this so well when he said that to understand Vatican II correctly one must begin with the first sentence of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: “Christ is the light of all nations”. The point, he said, is that the church begins by talking about Christ, not about itself.

A few years ago Pope John Paul II said it so well: “The best preparation for the new millennium can only be expressed by a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church” (The Coming Third Millennium, #20). May the Year of Faith be for each of us an opportunity to strengthen and deepen our faith at the personal and community level. May our motto be to live with intensity and renewed commitment this Year of Faith! May the Blessed Virgin Mary, “full of grace” and Star of the new Evangelization, guide us on our journey to Christ the Light!

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