Pope Makes Rare Council Appearance, Urges Approval of Draft on Mission Work

116th General Congregation
November 6, 1964

Pope Paul VI, breaking age-old tradition by presiding over a working session of an ecumenical council, threw his own influence behind the council’s draft document on mission work.

It had been expected that the drastically abbreviated series of propositions on the missions would encounter heavy weather in the council hall. Many missionary bishops and missionary superiors were known to be dissatisfied with it. At least two substitute documents on the missions were on the sidelines ready to be offered to the council in place of the official document.

The Pope, however, said that in examining the document which actually had been put before the council: “We have found many things worthy of our praise, both for its content and its order of exposition.”

In his brief address while appearing on the council floor, he stated: “We therefore believe that the text will be approved by you easily, although after undergoing some final necessary adjustments.”

What pleased him the most about the schema, the Pope said, was its constant emphasis that the entire Church should be missionary, and that, so far as possible, individual members of the Church should be missionary in mind and deed.

He called the missionary apostolate “the most excellent of all in importance and efficacy.”

The Pope told the Fathers that he had decided to preside over at least one of the council’s general congregations. What prompted him to choose the congregation dealing with the missions was “the grave and singular importance of the topic.”

In fact, the council interrupted its debate on its schema on the Church in the modern world to introduce the schema on the missions on the day of the Pope’s visit.

Pope Paul did not remain at the session for the debate itself — which developed some strong criticism of details of the schema. However, none of the day’s five speakers attacked the substance of the schema.

Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., who was the last of the four cardinals to speak, defended the Church’s missionary activity against those who think the Church should concentrate its energies and expend its resources on other things.

Cardinal Bea, who as president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity practically personifies Catholic ecumenism, urged a rebirth of missionary zeal.

Missionary activity, he said, is part of the Church’s very nature. Thus the council must instill new missionary drive throughout the Church.

He said the schema tries to answer those who doubt whether missionary activity, strictly so called, is timely today.

Cardinal Bea took up the objection that since hierarchies have been erected in almost every country, and since so-called Christian countries have in many instances fallen into neo-paganism, it hardly seems worthwhile to send missioners to new countries. He replied that while work in Christian countries can never be underestimated, the proclamation of the Gospel to those who have never heard the name of Christ has always been dear to the Church.

The German-born cardinal moved for inclusion in the schema of a brief statement affirming that missionary activity is necessary. He asked that it be so phrased that it can easily be understood by modern man.

Bishop Stanislaus Lokuang of Tainan, Formosa, presented the report on the schema on behalf of the council’s Commission on the Missions, which drafted it. Speaking immediately after the Pope’s departure from the hall, he said that the schema had been reduced considerably by the time it was distributed to the council Fathers last January.

But before the observations and recommendations sent in by the bishops could be taken into consideration, he said, the council Coordinating Commission issued orders to reduce the material concerning the missions to a simple series of propositions.

The Commission on the Missions had no choice but to obey, Bishop Lokuang continued. But he said that in view of the importance of the matter, it would gladly have worked out a more detailed text. Because of the importance of the subject, he said, the draft can hardly be viewed as satisfactory in its present reduced state.

Noting that the revised text now comprises 13 propositions, he proceeded to explain how various parts of the original schema had been synthesized into the new document.

Bishop Lokuang said that the missions commission refrained from any attempt to define missionary activity. He said the reason for this is that missiologists have not reached agreement on the subject.

Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger of Montreal led off the debate on the missions schema. He first took up the question of a “central mission board” as proposed by the text.

Bishop Lokuang had reported that the men who drew up the text had deliberately refrained from pinpointing relationship of such a board with the Holy See’s Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The reason behind this deliberate vagueness was the desire to leave this decision up to the Pope, he said.

Cardinal Leger, however, asked that the text clearly specify that this board be integrated into the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith as that mission body’s supreme council.

(According to the draft document, this central mission board or central council of evangelization would be comprised of representatives of those actually working in the missions. Its task would be to work out common plans through which the Church’s missionary activity would be directed. These plans, after being approved by the Pope, would be put into execution by the Congregation for Propagation of the Faith.)

Cardinal Leger asserted that the new liberty accorded to bishops as a result of this council is nowhere more necessary than in the missions. Bishops must be free to adapt the Gospel message to individual peoples, Cardinal Leger said, and the schema should be strengthened on this point.

He also urged that the schema speak out on the importance of the confronting not only of cultures (on which it already has something to say) but also on the importance of the encounter with various religions.

In a like vein, Peter Cardinal Doi of Tokyo complained that the schema treats of the missions only as they exist among non-Christian peoples of primitive (or evolving) cultures. He suggested that the schema turn its attention also to other non-Christian peoples of ancient culture and high educational level.

Laurian Cardinal Rugambwa of Bukoba, Tanganyika, pleaded for a more flexible spirit of adaptability in the mission field. He said St. Paul wrote the Magna Carta for all apostles when he declared that he had become all things to all men in order to save all. Only when the Church achieves an understanding of and a reverence for individual nations will what Cardinal Rugambwa called the “splendor of diversity” shine forth from the Church.

Cardinal Rugambwa urged that missionaries have a real respect for local laws. He said missionaries should adopt God’s command to Abraham — to “go out of thy land and away from thy relatives” — making of his apostolic field a new home and a new fatherland.

Cardinal Bea then spoke.

The final speaker was Father Martino Legarra, O.R.S.A., prelate nullius of Bocas del Toro, Panama, who said he was voicing the ideas of “several” bishops. His point was that those special, and usually small, ecclesiastical territories known as prelatures nullius should receive the same treatment as all other mission fields. He feared that the terminology of the schema is open to misunderstanding on the point. He said such prelatures do not receive the same regular financial support as other mission territories, simply because they are not called missions. This, he said, makes it very difficult to plan ahead.

Cardinal Agagianian, in introducing the schema, gave a brief outline of the changes in the Church’s missionary activities in the past century. He pointed out that in 1870 there was not a single native bishop in the Church’s mission territories, while today there are 167, including four cardinals.

Even within the past 15 years, he said, the number of Catholics in territories subject to Propaganda Fide has almost doubled, jumping from 28 million to 50 million. Cardinal Agagianian paid tribute to the valuable work of lay missionaries.

Voting on the schema on the pastoral duties of bishops continued throughout the debate on the missions schema.

The first vote was on the whole of Chapter II. Although only 19 council Fathers voted against the chapter, 889 expressed a desire to see changes (placet juxta modum). A total of 1,219 Fathers expressed their unqualified approval.

The chapter therefore was approved, but must still be amended.

(Archbishop Joseph T. McGucken of San Francisco later expressed the opinion that most of those who want the chapter changed object to the passage making all Religious — members of religious communities — subject to local bishops in public worship, in education and in other fields. He said most Religious working in the missions might want autonomy for certain charitable and cultural works.)

Seven other votes were taken on articles or groups of articles of the schema on the pastoral duties of bishops. The results of only three of them were available by the time the council Fathers arose to leave:

— Articles 36 and 37 (on synods and particular councils, and the concept of national episcopal conferences), yes 2,000, no 11.

— Article 38 (the structure, competence and collaboration of episcopal conferences), yes 1,948, no 71.

— Articles 39 to 41 (the division of ecclesiastical provinces and erection of ecclesiastical territories), yes 1,998, no 27.

— Articles 42 and 43 (bishops with interdiocesan functions [such as military ordinaries and directors of national societies]), yes 2,053, no 11.

— Article 44 (exhortation to bishops on pastoral duties), yes 2,049, no 15.

— On the whole of chapter III (on the cooperation of bishops for the common good of their churches), yes 1,582, no 15, yes with reservations 496.

The votes of unqualified approval carried this chapter by more than the required two-thirds majority (with four null votes there was a total of 2,070 votes). But council officers have repeatedly stated that the commission will take suggestions of the council Fathers into account in the final draft of the schema, even when a two-thirds majority has been reached.

Archbishop Herman Schaeufele of Freiburg, Germany, gave the report on Chapter III, on whose articles the votes were taken. He said the commission agreed not to state that national episcopal conferences are an expression of the power of the college of bishops. The schema bases them not on the principle of collegiality but on the need for collaboration and the need to share inspirations of prudence.

He said differences between the Oriental and Latin Rite Churches prevented a formulation of norms common to all. This is why the schema recommends that various rites within the same territory assemble to promote the best interests of all.

Although several council Fathers had asked for the total elimination of the term nation, he said this had proved impossible since most episcopal conferences represent the hierarchy of an entire nation.

The commission tackled three main problems concerning the organization of national episcopal conferences: what bishops have a right to belong to a conference, the kind of vote enjoyed by the members, and just how extensive is the juridical authority of such conferences.

It was decided:

— That all local Ordinaries of whatever rite would be members of the conferences.

— That all local Ordinaries and coadjutors would have a deliberative vote, while the conference might grant a deliberative vote to other bishops such as auxiliaries.

— That the judicial authority of episcopal conferences would extend to matters committed to them by common law, to those left in their hands by the Apostolic See or expressly given to them by the Apostolic See.

The day’s meeting opened with Mass in the Ethiopian Rite celebrated by Bishop Haile Cahsay of Adigrat, Ethiopia. The music and singing were provided by students from the Pontifical Ethiopian College here. The Gospel book was enthroned by Bishop Ghebre Jacob, Ordaining Bishop in Rome for the Ethiopian Rite, accompanied by a solemn hymn sung by Ethiopian students to the accompaniment of their bells and drums.

The moderator of the day was Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany.

Patrick Riley
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

* * * *

It was a red-letter day at the ecumenical council. For the first time since the Council of Trent, a pope personally presided over an assembly of the world’s hierarchy, implicitly confirming by his presence the principle of the collegiality of bishops.

When the Pope entered St. Peter’s at 9:10 a.m. the council Fathers had taken their seats. On ordinary days they usually swarmed over the aisles engaged in animated conversation. The Pope was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

Accompanied by Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the college of cardinals; Paolo Cardinal Marcella, archpriest of St. Peter’s; Archbishop Pericle Felici, the council’s secretary general; and Archbishop Enrico Dante, secretary of the Congregation of Rites, the Pope went directly to a seat in front of the altar where an Ethiopian-rite prelate started Mass.

The Ethiopian-rite Liturgy lasted a whole hour. Then the Pope was led by Archbishop Felici to the presidents’ rostrum where the center seat had been reserved for him amidst the 12 cardinals — a bishop among bishops.

The council moderators remained in their seats in the cardinals’ stalls except for Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich, Germany, who took over after the Gospel had been enthroned.

“The moderators have been moderated,” quipped one of the bishops. It was understood that when the Pontiff was present he would act as moderator himself.

After Archbishop Felici had read the names of five cardinals and 14 bishops listed as speakers on the schema dealing with missions, the Pope delivered a brief address. It was noted that he spoke of himself as St. Peter’s successor and of “you bishops, successors of the apostles,” thus confirming the principle of episcopal collegiality adopted earlier by the council.

Pope Paul listened to the report on the mission schema given by Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian, prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Then he rose, gave his apostolic blessing to all council Fathers present and their faithful, and left the hall on foot.

While going out he greeted the cardinals, patriarchs, and especially Ukrainian-rite Major Archbishop Josyf Slipyi of Lvov, released in 1963 from a Soviet prison. The applause of the bishops echoed through the hall. When he reached the lower end of the hall, the Pope turned around once more, lifting both hands in a gesture as though he meant to embrace the whole assembly.

Father Placid Jordan, O.S.B.
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

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