Fifty-four years ago the newly elected Pope, John XXIII, convened a group of Cardinal advisers to notify them that he intended to convene an Ecumenical Council of the entire Catholic Church East and West. The shock and dismay on the faces of the cardinals was palpable - so much so that John XXIII was distressed that his news was received with so little enthusiasm and vision. The occasion was the celebration of the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul - at a time in world history when the "Cold War" between the Soviet Union and the west was picking up steam, and the beginning of a year when wars, small and large, were fought in post-colonial Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia and it saw the beginning of the Cuban dictatorship of Fidel Castro. It was a year when the poor of the southern hemisphere numbered hundreds of millions, when the rumblings of discontent with racism in the United States were becoming audible. In the Catholic Church a statement forbidding Italians for vote for candidates for office in the Italian Communist Party was met with some scorn and mostly indifference.
The elderly Pope, elected to be a transition figurehead after the lengthy pontificate of Pius XII, turned out to be the one who would unleash a tidal wave of aggiornamento (updating) in the 1900 year old institution of the Catholic Church. The Pope announced that the Council will begin soon, and planning for it must begin immediately. He was aware that his age and health did not permit him to set in motion a long period of planning. If he was to see a Council begin it had to be soon.
Fifty years ago this fall, on October 11, 1962, the Council of some 2500 Bishops of the Catholic Church, plus hundreds of theological advisors, Protestant and Orthodox invited observers, more hundreds of men and women of the world press corps, and seemingly thousands of seminarians descended upon the City of Rome to begin the largest single meeting of the Catholic Church, and the largest four-year long, peaceful meeting of any human organization in world history. This incredible event, called by Pope John XXIII, and recalled three years by his successor, Pope Paul VI met in the autumn months of September to December for four years.
This historic meeting and event, not only altered the practices of Catholicism, it changed most other Christian denominations in response to its call for dialogue and ecumenism. It changed large world religions by its recognition of many of their truth claims, and its call to dialogue, and it opened the door for serious cooperation in peacemaking and genuine human development between those who had not even really spoken to each other for decades - or centuries - or even millennia.
Hundreds of books and articles have been written about the Council but many Catholics have yet to read and seriously study the sixteen documents that emerged from the Bishops in Council- documents that now form the contemporary formulation for Catholic teaching, the "new evangelization" and thousands of initiatives in peace-making and human development across the globe.
Earlier this year (2012) Pope Benedict XVI, who served as a young Theological advisor to bishops of Germany at the Council, called upon Catholics throughout the world to observe a "year of faith" by remembering Vatican II and studying the documents that came from it. Here at Creighton University, a Catholic and Jesuit University in Omaha, Nebraska , various members of the faculty joined in an effort to honor not just the Year of Faith, but to invite the faculty, staff and students of Creighton, as well as the larger community of Omaha, Grand Island and Des Moines Catholic dioceses, men and women of the Christian communities here in the Midwestern United States, and people of goodwill of all religious faiths and no faith at all to join us in studying, reflecting upon and celebrating the tremendous Legacy of Vatican II as a central expression of the Catholic character of the University's identity and mission.
To undertake such a project we understood that just as the Council itself had taken four years to accomplish, we would take four years to seriously study and discuss and teach the Council as a graced event of our times. We would explore the documents in some detail and we would invite experts and scholars from around the world to share with us their insights into the Council and its outcomes in multiple cultures.
From the fall term of 2012 until the fall of 2015 various lectures, convocations, seminars, courses, films and other events would be sponsored focusing on the meaning and impact of the Second Vatican Council. We hope to engage students in scholarship, inviting them to interact with international scholars and give presentations themselves toward developing themes of the Council?s influence on their world. We invite scholars from all disciplines on campus to join with us in discovering more fully how the Catholic Jesuit character of our institution, so greatly influenced by the Council and its teachings, could be further enriched and understood by all members of the community whatever their faith or the source of their spirituality might be.
Sponsored initially by the Barbara Reardon Heaney Chair, The Center for Catholic Thought, and the Department of Theology, events of the four-year program will also be sponsored or co-sponsored by the Kenefick Chair, the Graff Chair, the Martin DePorres Distinguished Lecture series, the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, the Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society, St. John's Parish and other interested members of the Creighton family.
Watch this website for updates and information on future events.