Indian Catholic News

Letter from Rome

Surprise announcement of an elderly pope continues to reverberate today

By Robert Mickens

It is now 60 years since Pope John XXIII surprised the world by announcing plans to hold what soon after would be called the Second Vatican Council. It would be the first such worldwide gathering of bishops of its kind in some nine decades.

The date was Sunday January 25, 1959 — the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and the final day of the Octave for Christian Unity. The place was the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome.

The 77-year-old John had been Bishop of Rome for only three months and he made his surprise announcement to a small group of curial cardinals who gathered with him after Mass in the chapter room of the adjacent Benedictine monastery.

"Trembling a little with emotion, but at the same time humbly resolute in my purpose, I announce to you a double celebration which I propose to undertake: a diocesan synod for the city, and a general council for the Universal Church," Pope John said.

Those who were able to hear must have been stunned at the calling of a council. The "new" pope had told only a few people of his plans to make the announcement.

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