VATICAN CITY - When Pope Francis tweets, the world listens.

According to “Twiplomacy,” a study of the Twitter accounts of world leaders and their retweet rates, U.S. President Barack Obama has the most Twitter followers, but Pope Francis’ @Pontifex is the most influential Twitter account — his average “retweet” and “favorite” rate is more than eight times higher than Obama’s.

Published in Vatican

Rome on Oct. 11, 1962, but the drama started in Canada Aug. 17 that year. 

For a year and a half Cardinal Paul-Emile Leger, archbishop of Montreal, had been one of a handful of cardinals on the central preparatory commission of the council. It had met seven times between June 1961 and the feast of Pentecost, 1962. And then Leger received his book of draft documents assembled by curial officials in Rome. 

Leger was not pleased with what he saw. On Aug. 17 he launched a “supplique” — a letter of petition — addressed directly to Pope John XXIII. Leger told the Pope in no uncertain terms the documents prepared in Rome were unworkable, impractical and simply wrong. They were wrong in their tone, their language and their limited vision. The council must present the traditional faith of the Church pastorally. For Leger, it was imperative the council find new modes of expression. Leger’s “supplique” eventu­ally gathered the signatures of a number of heavyweights in the College of Cardinals. 

On Sept. 17 Leger got a message back through Cardinal Amleto Cicognani, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, saying that the Pope had favourably received the supplique. How favourably became clear when the Pope opened the council on Oct. 11. Pope John XXIII immediately emphasized conciliarity by recalling that council had been through­out history the highest teaching authority in the Church. Then the Pope took a swipe at cautious, gloomy curial officials who would rather not address the modern world. 

“We feel that we must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecast­ing worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand,” said the Pope. 

But Canadian influence on the council did not stop there. 

“One of the key elements of the council is conciliarity within the Church. And one of the major voices promoting conciliarity within the council is Maxim Hermaniuk. It’s clear as night and day,” said Fr. Myroslav Tataryn, St. Jerome’s College professor of Church history. 

Hermaniuk was the Ukrainian Metro­politan Archeparch of Winnipeg, and he chaired the 15-member Ukrainian Catholic delegation. He called for a permanent synod of bishops to collaborate regularly with the pope. He favoured presenting the liturgy in local languages. He fought for respect for the 21 non-Roman rites of the Catholic Church and championed the cause of ecumenism by pointing out the theological irrelevance of the mutual ex-communications between the patriarch of Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople in 1054. 

As an Eastern Catholic Hermaniuk knew the spiritual and practical value of synods. 

“He recognized that (synods) are not just something the Eastern Churches hold dear. It is part of the apostolic heritage,” said Tataryn. “It is the way in which the early Church operated. It doesn’t take anything away from Peter. It doesn’t take anything away from the Roman papacy. It is simply a recognition that the fullness of the Church’s life is expressed in that balance.” 

He never got the permanent synod of bishops, but Hermaniuk started a conversa­tion that goes on to this day. 

“So Hermaniuk put out the proposal. It gets formulated in different ways. We still haven’t worked out how synodality works in the Catholic Church today,” said Tataryn. 

German-born Canadian theologian Gregory Baum played a central role in drafting the first text on the relationship between Christians and Jews — a document that would eventually become Nostra Aetate. 

Baum’s involvement began at a meeting with Cardinal Augustin Bea to discuss ecu­menical relationships with non-Catholic Christians. 

“At the end of the meeting Cardinal Bea said, ‘I just saw the Pope, and he said to us that he wants the secretariat to prepare a statement to rethink the Church’s relation­ship to the Jews,’ ” Baum recalled in an interview with The Catholic Register. 

Bea was looking for experts who could contribute and Baum had published a book on the subject. From that point forward Baum worked closely with Bea. 
Baum is incredulous when people suppose that somehow wily, elite, academic theologians were leading the bishops along at the council. 

“These things came from the very top. The theologians were asked to help in this, to write texts and so on, but the initiative came from the top,” he said.

“It would be quite wrong to think this was run by theologians.” 

Canadian bishops who had roles in helping to prepare for the council included Quebec Archbishop Maurice Roy (who was made a cardinal at the end of the council), Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Philip Pocock (who became Toronto’s archbishop in 1971), Winnipeg Archbishop George Flahiff (who was made a cardinal in 1969) and Sault Ste. Marie Bishop Alexander Carter. 

Pocock was a consultor to the Commis­sion for the Discipline of the Clergy and the Christian People. Once he held the reins in Toronto, he put his Vatican II experience into action by ordaining deacons. Pocock’s model of the revived diaconate survives to this day and is imitated all over North America. 

Carter dedicated the rest of his life to lifting up the laity, creating the Diocesan Order of Service and the Diocesan Order of Women. He empowered women and native elders to preside at communion services when no priest is available, minister to the sick, witness weddings, baptize and lead wake services. 
Carter was “entirely transformed by it,” said Michael Attridge, a University of St. Michael’s College theologian and historian of the council. 

“He saw himself as someone who needed to implement the council in the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie in the years following,” Attridge said. 

As a young priest studying canon law at The Angelicum (the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome) during the council, retired Hamilton Auxiliary Bishop Matthew Ustrzycki witnessed a whole new side of the Church. The pre-Vatican semi­naries of North America were not hotbeds of controversy and debate, but in Rome people were arguing theology in the street. 

All the passion and idealism of the council took place against a backdrop of imminent doom. The Soviet Union had tried to install nuclear missiles just a few miles off the American coast in Cuba. Memories of the Holocaust and Europe at war were fresh. Communism and capitalism had the world divided in half. 

But the Second Vatican Council wasn’t just about bishops and theologians. It addressed itself to the whole world, and Canadians took that very seriously. 
“It helped us to understand the call to justice,” said Saint Paul University theolo­gian Cathy Clifford. “That solidarity with the poor and the call to justice were an integral part of our faith commitment. I don’t hear that as much today.” 

The times called forth optimism from Canadians, recalls Janet Somerville, retired general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches. 

“We were tremendously optimistic about our heritage and our future at that time,” she said. “That did condition the way we read the texts of the council.” 
Canada’s middle class was growing and Catholics were joining it in record numbers. And that meant a sea change in Catholic attitudes, said Somerville.

The tragic world view of suffering immigrant Catholics was on its way out as the council convened. 

“Catholics were sociologically emerging from that during the ’60s,” said Somerville. “They kind of identified the council’s agenda with their own agenda of being much more satisfied with the world — because the world was treating them better.” 

Much of the Canadian history of Vatican II is still being written in how the council is interpreted. Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber tells anybody who will listen that it takes 100 years to understand and implement an ecumenical council. As a historian, Attridge is trying to understand how three generations of bishops — the ones who participated in the council, the ones ordained shortly after and the bishops in place now — have interpreted Vatican II. 

“It would be interesting to map the change in the Canadian bishops as we move further away from the council,” he said. 

“In general, councils don’t happen very often,” said Clifford. “Even to understand what a council is and how a council deliber­ates is something.

Published in Vatican II

There was a time when I hated the wedding feast at Cana. Couldn’t stand to read it; couldn’t stand to hear it. But it was only a year or two, and it passed. One doesn’t remain in the seminary forever.

During my theological studies at the Gregorian University in Rome, I took the usual list of introductory biblical courses: Pentateuch, prophets, synoptic gospels, Pauline letters and, of course, the corpus of St. John. The whole lot of them were mostly useless in understanding the Scriptures as the word of God revealed to His people and received in the life of the Church.

The Johannine course was worse than useless; it actively damaged my faith. Not because it was heterodox or stupid, but because by subjecting John 2 — the wedding at Cana — to an excruciating examination according to textual criticism, the depth and breadth of John’s Gospel lost its power, suffocated by a welter of secondary and obscure historical and literary analysis. We would have not known from the course that, for example, St. Augustine had written volumes on John’s Gospel. It was deadly. The only saving grace was that time limited us to only one chapter, leaving the rest of the Gospel uncontaminated for spiritual nourishment.

All of which was brought to mind by the gracious comments offered by my friend Fr. Thomas Rosica upon the death of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

“Cardinal Martini was for me a mentor, teacher, model Scripture scholar and friend,” wrote Fr. Rosica. “He has influenced my life, teaching, pastoral ministry in a very significant way over the past 30 years. When many colleagues, students and friends have asked me these past years how I maintained my faith and hope in the world of Scripture scholarship and teaching, I often told them: ‘I had three Martinis a day.’ ”

Why would people ask Fr. Rosica how he maintained his faith and hope in the world of Scripture scholarship? Wouldn’t the normal expectation be that studying the Scriptures would deepen one’s faith? The question is counter-intuitive only to those unfamiliar with the world of Scripture scholarship. The entire field is often deadening to faith, as the Scriptures get picked apart, reduced to entrails of a lost civilization, rather than the lifeblood of the living body of the Church.
Fr. Rosica praised Cardinal Martini because he was an exception to this norm. He could take the Scriptures apart like a scholar and put them back together again as a Christian disciple and pastor. Cardinal Martini put his biblical scholarship to pastoral use with his famous lectio divina sessions in Milan’s cathedral, where the cardinal and youth would read the Bible together, both literally and spiritually in the heart of the local Church.

Martini’s influence touches Canada and not only in the work of Fr. Rosica. Cardinal Thomas Collins, both in Edmonton and now in Toronto, regularly leads lectio divina in his cathedral on the Martini model. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa is well known to Catholic Register readers for his weekly scriptural commentaries, now published in book form. Collins and Prendergast are both Scripture scholars called to be bishops.

And of course, the one greater than even Cardinal Martini, Joseph Ratzinger, has demonstrated how the highest levels of biblical scholarship can be combined with the life of faith in his multi-volume Jesus of Nazareth.

Despite the example of these pastors, the study of Scripture in the theological faculties has largely remained unchanged. Fortunately, Catholics today can more easily free themselves from the deadening effects of such scholarship, and reclaim the life-giving fruit of biblical study for themselves. 

To begin with, there are the works of Pope Benedict, Collins and Prendergast. One thinks also of the vast publishing of Scott Hahn, who writes books for both beginners and scholars. One of his books that helped me most recover from my biblical courses was A Father Who Keeps His Promises. I used it earlier this year with my students as part of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

There are also the works of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household for more than 30 years. His preaching, translated into English and widely available in print and online (, is fresh and contemporary. I remember one Good Friday sermon, preached in the presence of the Holy Father in St. Peter’s, in which he dismantled John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

I recommend to seminarians and lay people that they find a great biblical preacher that resonates with them, and discover the Scriptures through that preacher’s eyes. The Fathers of the Church are the deepest source, of course, but closer to our own time and in English, I always profit from Blessed John Henry Newman, Msgr. Ronald Knox and the Venerable Fulton Sheen.

Cardinal Martini chose a verse from the psalms for his tombstone: Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to guide my path. Due to scholars who are also disciples, that word is shining a little brighter today.

Published in Fr. Raymond de Souza