Pope John XXIII told non-Catholics attending the ecumenical council that he intends to work and suffer to speed the achievement of Christian unity.
Pope John spoke at a special audience (Oct. 13) in the Vatican’s Consistory Hall for 35 delegate-observers and guests representing 17 Orthodox and Protestant denominations.
The 35 were led into the audience by Msgr. Jan G. M. Willebrands, secretary of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity.
The first two delegate-observers to enter were the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church who had arrived from Moscow the day before. Others included observers from the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Church, the Armenian Church, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Old Catholic Church, as well as Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Quaker, Congregationalist and Methodist observers.
Among the seven official guests of the secretariat were the Rev. Stanley I. Stuber of Jefferson City, Mo., a Baptist, and the Rev. Joseph H. Jackson of Chicago, president of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.
The visitors, who showed warm sympathy toward the Pope, gathered in a semicircle around the Pontiff, who was seated not on the usual throne but in an armchair. The observers and guests were introduced by Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., president of the secretariat, who expressed joy over the presence of so large a group of distinguished members of other faiths and his conviction that their presence was a first step toward ultimate Christian reunion. The Pontiff then addressed the group and told them:
“It is now for the Catholic Church to bend herself to her work with calmness and generosity. It is for you to observe her with renewed and friendly attention.”
He told the observers and guests that “there burns in my heart the intention of working and suffering to hasten the hour when for all men the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper will have reached its fulfillment.” Pope John also recalled his friendly contacts with non-Catholics when he was stationed as a papal diplomat, at posts in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Paris.
The Pope ended the meeting by expressing his joy that the observers had come to the council and giving them his blessing.
Following is a translation of the Pope’s address, which was delivered in French:
“Today’s most welcome meeting is to be simple and friendly, respectful and brief. The first word which rises up in my heart is the prayer taken from the 67th Psalm, which has a lesson for all, ‘Blessed day by day be the Lord, who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation’ (Ps. 67, 20).
“When in 1952, Pope Pius XII most unexpectedly asked me to become the Patriarch of Venice, I told him that I did not need to reflect very long before accepting the appointment. For in the undertaking there was nothing at all of my own seeking; there was no desire in my heart of being appointed to one office or ministry rather than to another. My episcopal motto fitly provided my answer: ‘Obedientia et Pax’ (Obedience and Peace).
“And so when after 30 years in the direct service of the Holy See, I prepared myself to begin a new kind of life and found myself shepherd of the flock of Venice, which I was to tend for the next six years, I reflected and meditated upon those words of the Psalm:
“‘The Lord who bears our burdens;’ He carries us, what we are and what we possess with His treasure in us and with our miseries.
“This same thought was present to me when I accepted, four years ago, the succession of St. Peter, and it has been so in what has followed right up to the announcement and the preparation of the council.
“In so far as it concerns my humble person, I would not like to claim any special inspiration. I content myself with the sound doctrine which teaches that everything comes from God. In this sense I have considered this idea of the council which began on Oct. 11 to be a heavenly inspiration. I confess to you that it was for me a day of great emotion.
“On that providential and historic occasion, I devoted all my attention to my immediate duty of preserving my recollection, of praying and giving thanks to God. But from time to time my eye ranged over the multitude of sons and brothers and suddenly, as my glance rested upon your group, on each of you personally, I drew a special comfort from your presence.
“I will not say more about that at the moment, but will content myself with recording the fact. ‘Blessed day by day be the Lord.’ Yet, if you could read my heart, you would perhaps understand much more than words can say.
“Can I ever forget the 10 years passed at Sofia? Or the 10 more at Istanbul and Athens? They were 20 years of happy and delightful acquaintance with persons I revere and with young people filled with generosity upon whom I looked with affection, even though my work as representative of the Holy Father in the Near East was not explicitly concerned with them.
“Then again at Paris, which is one of the crossroads of the world, and was especially so immediately after the end of the last war. I had frequent meetings with Christians of many different denominations.
“I cannot remember any occasion on which we were divided on principle nor that there was ever any disagreement on the plane of charity in the common work of helping those in need, which the circumstances of the time made necessary. We did not haggle, we talked together; we did not have arguments, but we bore each other good will.
“One day long ago I gave to a venerable and aged prelate of an Oriental church, not in communion with Rome, a medal of the pontificate of Pius XI. This gesture was meant to be, and was, a simple act of friendly courtesy.
“Not long after, the old man, on the point of closing his eyes on the things of this earth, requested that, when he was dead, the medal of the Pope should be put on his breast. I saw it myself and the memory of it still moves me. I have mentioned this episode deliberately because in its simplicity and innocence, it is like a flower of the field which the return of spring allows one to pluck and offer.
“May the Lord always thus accompany our steps with His grace.
“Your welcome presence here and the emotion of our priestly heart (the heart of a bishop of the Church of God, as we said yesterday before the assembled council), the emotion of my beloved fellow workers and, I am certain of it, your own emotion too, combine to show you that there burns in my heart the intention of working and suffering to hasten the hour when for all men the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper will have reached its fulfillment.
“But the Christian virtue of patience is not out of harmony with the equally fundamental virtue of prudence.
“And so I say again: ‘Blessed day by day be the Lord.’ For today let that suffice.
“It is now the task of the Catholic Church to bend herself to her work with calmness and generosity; your task is to observe her with renewed and friendly attention.
“May the inspiration of heavenly grace which moves hearts and rewards good works be upon all of you and all that is yours.”