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Historian focuses on Vatican II

Karen Langley | Friday, February 18, 2005

Saint Mary’s continued a year-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council by welcoming renowned Vatican II historian Father Joseph Komonchak to campus Thursday evening. Komonchak, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., presented a lecture entitled “Vatican II: History and Significance.”

Komonchak began his presentation by noting the difficulties of speaking about Vatican II to an audience whose parents are not old enough to remember the Council. He explained that he had firsthand information about the Council, as he studied at a seminary in Rome during the two years leading up to the Council and during the first two Council sessions.

“The fact that we undertake such celebrations as this indicates the historical significance of the Council,” he said. “For better or worse, Vatican II represented an epic shift in the history of the Catholic Church. Precisely because something historic has occurred, it has become controversial.”

Komonchak said Pope John XXIII startled the Catholic world by announcing his plans to convene an ecumenical council. John XXIII was elected at age 77 to serve as a transitional pontificate after the long reign of Pope Pius XII, but the new pope quickly became involved in a more significant transition in the Church.

“The Pope proposed the Council as an occasion for spiritual renewal in the church. This had very significant implications, as it suggested that certain Catholic ways of doing things were no longer as appropriate as they had once been,” Komonchak said.

Komonchak described the development and politics of the Council throughout its four sessions. He stressed the importance of the 16 documents presented at the Council and the changes they caused in the Church.

“The Church became more open to self-examination, adopted a far more nuanced attitude towards the modern world, and made the decision to validate the distinctiveness of local churches. These were three revolutionary decisions,” he said.

The anniversary celebration of Vatican II began in November and will continue through October of next year. The next event will be held on March 30, when Kenneth Woodward, a contributing editor at Newsweek, will speak about his experiences reporting on the Council.

“Programs offered through the College’s Center for Spirituality will engage members of the College community, as well as interested individuals from all levels of academia, Church and society in a dialogue about the impact of Vatican II,” said Sister Kathleen Dolphin, director of the Center for Spirituality.