1963: Exchange of ideas with our brothers in the episcopate

In the course of Vatican II



+ HELDER CAMARA, Titular Archbishop of Salde; Auxiliary of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;

(National General Secretary, Conference of Brazilian Bishops; and Vice President, Consejo Episcopal Latino Americano (CELAM, Council of Latin-American Bishops).

Our visiting card:

Among the greatest graces of the Council may be mentioned the meeting, in Rome, of Bishops of the world world and the surprise of discovering that ideas timidly and hopefully fostered were being shared the five continents.

Many times, in the Council Hall, I was tempted to interfere with data and suggestions. I preferred to listen.

Today I am here, bringing my thoughts to my brethren: presenting ideas, asking questions, speaking to Bishops of one continent or of one country, or to the Bishops of the world.

I long for a dialogue: for the love of God, do not allow me to be confined to a monologue ….


Is there anyone who does not desire that Vatican II should complete Vatican I? I shall not allude to the features of the Doctrine of the Episcopal College which will fill the debates in Saint Peter’s. I start from the premise of a happy presentation of the collegiate thesis which will create a natural background for papal primacy and infallibility. I start from the premise of revision of the powers of the Roman Curia, which should bear to the Holy Father the relationship of the Diocesan Curia to its own Bishop.

I propose to suggest practical measures to avoid going from an excess of centraliza- tion to an excess of decentralization.

We intend to strengthen, on the national plane, the Episcopal Conferences.

Duality or more than duality of languages is a difficulty which Canada, for instance, teaches us how to surmount.

And we shall not stop in fear of the debatable, or undoubted, dangers of yes- terday. We shall see to it the Holy Ghost will assist us that no Episcopal Conference stops within itself. We shall see to it the Holy Ghost and us that all Conferences shall exist with a view to a dialogue of continental and universal scope.

We shall forego the itch for total independence within the limits of our own Dioceses, with the sole reservation of the Holy Father’s authority.

Who does not perceive that in our days no great problem can be solved within the limits of a single Ecclesiastic District? Need anyone be convinced that the joint pastoral can no longer be postponed?

In practice, one good way would be for a committee of Bishops to draft, with the help of experts, clerics or laymen, directives which would adapt Christian doctrine to each time and place, for each fundamental sphere (v.g. education and social action). These directives, after discussion and approval by a majority at the Conference, would become nationally binding, with a validity resulting from the Bishops themselves in union with the Pope.

Even should one of us disagree with a generally-approved line, we should not weaken the whole, were our motives ever so respectable: we should not hearten the enemies of the Church with our internal divisions.

Should the small number of Bishops, or their excessive labors, or the lack of expert advice, make it impossible for them to draft such directives, there is nothing to keep one conference from using the work of another, suitably adapted.

A practical measure which should be established would be the exchange of experiences and studies. Mankind can only benefit by our drawing closer to each other. The more our individual visions become Christian, ecumenic, universal, the closer we shall be to the ideal of Christ.

It is urgent to review in depth the constitutions and by-laws of the Episcopal Conferences. There are constitutions and by-laws which in effect reduce Bishops to the status of minors.

It is not enough to state that the Holy Father is not interested in having “seminarist-Bishops” as leaders of Dioceses or Episcopal Conferences. should be no seminarist Bishops. 

It is not a question of arrogance or pride. It is a question of assuming the full responsibility God has given us tainly with no merit of ours in granting us the fullness of priesthood and integrating us in the Episcopal College.

As important as the conferences in the national (or, exceptionally, in the regional) plane is the continental bond of which CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference) is an example. It remains only to undertake the revision of the constitution and by-laws of CELAM without delay and according to the spirit of Vatican II.

Continental entities should coordinate the efforts of the several Conferences, making it easier to face problems which can only be properly met on a continental scale. Continental entities should encourage the dialogue of the Church within herself. Also, it is evident that the grave human problems of our day require world dimensions for proper formulation.

I make the following practical suggestions for review and study in depth.

The USA and Canada would benefit by establishing an organization binding together their respective Conferences (CNAE: Council of the North American Episcopate). It would also be to the advantage of CELAM and CNAE to join forces as the CAME – Council of the American Episcopate.

During the first phase of Vatican II, Africa felt the need of a continental organization for the coordination of the activities of the African hierarchy. With or without an official name, CAFE (Council of the African Episcopate) has in fact blossomed.

Asia will not measure up to the staggering problems of the next decades unless it organizes on a continental basis (CASE: Council of the Asian Episcopate) and fraternally links up with the rest of the world. It should be enough to remind ourselves that in the year 2,000 mankind will be some 6,261 million strong, of which about 4,000 million will be Asians. This will obviously entail the gravest economic, social and religious consequences.

Europe cannot further postpone establishing its own continental organization (CEURE: Council of the European Episcopate). It is inconceivable that while European states, for political and economic reasons, have been able to achieve the miracle of a Common Market, the Church should be unable to draw in broad outline a joint pastoral for old and eternal Europe.

As to Oceania, Australia would naturally lead in a brotherly spirit the COCE (Council of the Oceania Episcopate).

At this stage CAL would relinquish its place in the Roman Curia to a world organization with coordinating and executive functions.

As a natural consequence of the Episcopal College, the Holy Father will certainly take steps towards the creation of a Senate which will assist the Vicar of Christ in the Government of the Church of Christ.

It is essential that the members of the Senate do not take roots in Rome. They should not lose contact with their bases.

The Senate: Could it, should it be made up by the College of Cardinals itself? Could it, should it be elected by the several continental organizations, on the basis of primaries in the several Conferences?

It is also essential that the Senate members act, with respect to the Pope, as spokesmen, not only of their own personal ideas but also for the desires and aspirations of the Church not only of the Bishops but also of the priesthood and laity.

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Let us remind ourselves of data not to be forgotten, not to become trite or to be treated as routine, with no emotion and no follow-up:

  • two-thirds of mankind are plunged in underdevelopment and hunger;
  • from now until the year 2,000 the situation can only worsen (population will have exceeded the 6,000 million mark, of which 5,000 million will belong to the underdeveloped regions of the world);
  • it is sobering to think that the happy and prosperous third is made up of Christians or comes under Christian influence: most of the hungry two-thirds are pagans.

Pope John XXIII states, in Mater et Magistra, that this is perhaps the gravest social problem of our time. Have we Catholics – and, more concretely, we Bishops actually brought to the matter the attention it deserves, and have we made every effort within our reach to stamp out this scandal?

It is easy to make statements to the effect that this problem, by its very nature and size, lies beyond our scope. It is easy to say this economic and social problem should be solved by the State.

May I recall that, in this instance, it is the right and duty of the Church to intervene. Let us also remember that, strange as it may seem, there is much that we can do in this regard.

Can one remain indifferent to a collective wrongfulness which affects two-thirds of all mankind? Can the knowledge that millions of human creatures live in sub-human conditions, unable to effectively use the divine gifts of intelligence and freedom, cause no concern? Can anyone avoid feeling oppressed by these vast multitudes of which Christ will say, on the Last Day: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked ……?

All of us, Bishops of the five Continents, certainly could try to bring about, in a coordinated manner and with one same spirit, a dialogue between the developed and the underdeveloped world.

All of us, in perfect time, should try to awaken the wealthy, not to almsgiving but to the practice of social justice, by means of Pastorals or joint statements, sermons, lectures, action of specialized groups of laymen with appropriate backgrounds, in an effort towards the creation of conditions conducive to less selfishness and a more human and Christian sense of values. Should an intelligent and dedicated effort end in failure, we would at least keep our consciences clear after having done our best.

It should be noted that:

  • even in the underdeveloped areas there are minorities of wealthy people to be awakened. On the wealthy of Latin America, The Economist has commented on their possessing 80% of the land; in several instances, on their control of Parliaments, and on their idealism and faith in the future as measured by their bank deposits in Europe and the United States (over 15,000 million dollars);
  • the ultimate intention of the Meeting of Hierarchies held in Washington in 1959 (6 Bishops of Latin America, 6 of the United States and 6 of Canada) was to propose a widespread and intelligent movement of public opinion for the definitive awakening of the developed world. At the closing session I stated (in part):

“…..it should be made clear that this is not a question of almsgiving. Our goal is to make it understood that the rehabilitation of the underdeveloped world is a problem more important and urgent than the conflict between East and West.

“Also, the Church will have dealt Communism the severest of blows by sponsoring a movement such as this. We should exert moral pressure to the full in order to make clear the necessity of helping the underdeveloped two-thirds to get on their feet. Only Christianity possesses the authority to make rich and powerful countries understand the revolting paradox of their being least loved precisely by the peoples they help most. To give is difficult. The right to give must be won through love. It is necessary to overcome selfishness in order to accept the fact that the assisted of today may become the equals, competitors or betters of tomorrow.”

  • Our longing to see the Church as spiritual leader in the fight to end this injustice of world dimensions (which does not mean that the Church should allow itself to be dragged from its own to other, alien fields) makes us think of a Christian Bandung… The moral repercussions, throughout the world, of a meeting let us say in Jerusalem, halfway between East and West, under the personal chairmanship of the Pope of Bishops and Christian experts from Latin America, Africa and Asia, can be imagined. It would be a question, not so much of arriving at concrete formulas or immediate solutions, as of defining a position, marking a spirit, showing interest.

The Pontifical Committee for Latin America (CAL) is fostering, in several countries of the developed areas, a movement of spiritual and material aid to Latin America. In at least a dozen countries, the Hierarchies have set up Committees for Latin America, engaged in the dispatching of priests, religious and nuns, the distribution of financial aid, scholarships…..

Far be it from us to minimize, not only the purity of intention, but the effectual aid resulting from the intervention of CAL. Assistance, however, is rendered on a totally empirical basis and there is no coordination between the several donating countries.

During the first phase of Vatican II, His Eminence Leo-Joseph Cardinal Suenens arranged an informal meeting in Rome between Bishops of the developed and underdeveloped worlds. Once again, a Cardinal of Malines takes the initiative of a dialogue which may, even tomorrow, bear tangible fruit, similar to the blessed conversations between Mercier and Halifax.

Father Francis Houtart has submitted, in behalf of FERES (International Federation of Catholic Institutes of Social and Socio-Religious Investigations), a report on The Church in Latin America at the time of the Council (a synthesis based on the 20 sociological reports, the 5 documents and the 16 socio-religious reports released to date by the Federation on the Latin American continent).

It seems evident and impostponable

  • to aim at once for the key points uncovered in the reports (instead of the terrible waste inherent in apostolic work where, no doubt, supernatural and sometimes heroic intentions prevail but where the gravest, most explosive goals are not reached and work is not performed so as to pave the way and ensure continuity of action in the future);
  • to coordinate the several Committees for Latin America, among themselves and with CELAM.

At the informal meeting promoted by Cardinal Suenens, FERES has afforded us a vision of the whole underdeveloped world, not limited to Latin America, in line with the report by Fr. Houtart, L. Grond and C. Thoen, L’Eglise et l’aide aux pays en voie de développement.

Many other initiatives reveal an intelligent and deeply evangelical concern on the part of the Hierarchies of both worlds.

Some typical examples:

– Pax Christi has stated, with fairness and accuracy, the problem of Christian obligations with regard to development (it will suffice to recall the most timely speech by His Eminence Cardinal Feltin).

– The Chilean Episcopate has released a collective Pastoral in anticipation of the grave and lucid admonition contained in the special issue of Mensaje on Revolución en America Latina: Vision Christiana.

– In Brazil, after having encouraged the Government to set in operation a plan for the socio-economic rehabilitation of the Brazilian North East (the most critical underdeveloped area in the country), the Episcopate is carrying out, in line with Colombian experience, a widespread and intelligent movement for basic education by means of radio schools.

There is no lack of significant movements of limited scope. The making of a collective conscience is there. Yet much remains for us to do if the false impression of compliance with an unjust and obsolete social practice is to be avoided.

Concretely, we suggest:

– that the Episcopate of the whole world give wholehearted support to the creation of a Secretariat, Committee or Subcommittee, for the purpose of reviewing, in the Council, the more pressing ad-extra problems with which the Church has to deal (including and chiefly the problems of under- development);

  • that the several Episcopal Committees pro-Latin America inter-coordinate for the purpose of making explicit the conclusions of reports such as The Church of Latin America at the time of Council;
  • that the dialogue between the two worlds, started in Rome, be continued and that practical and efficient measures be studied for bringing about a Christian Bandung.



Many of us perhaps have to review, deepen and widen our notion of catechetics. As a general rule, by catechetics we understand the teaching of religion given, in a formal way, by means of catechists who use a manual of religion. The problems then consist in bettering the manual, forming the catechists, and striving to reach not only children, but also adolescents and adults. Since the Code of Canon Law (Western) requires the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in every parish, there are sincere efforts to make possible the fulfilling of Par. 3 of can. 711. Who, at least in Latin America, does not know of the effort of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in the United States to bring the C.C.D. up to date?

Woe to the Church and to humanity if there exist only catechetics in the formal sense: the 2/3rds of the underdeveloped of humanity would remain outside its action; the workers, because Pius XI stated – and the reality continues to prove him always more right, the Church has lost the working classes; the absolute majority of adults of the large cities, since as a general rule, the percentage of assistance at Mass on Sundays (which is practically the only chance of a formal meeting which would remain to the Church) does not go customarily beyond 10%.

More important than insisting on the negative side is to suggest at once positive notes and constructive suggestions.

The experiment, begun in Colombia and transplanted to various other countries, of basic education by means of radio schools is successful in Latin America.

This is not a matter of catechetics, since there was the good sense to verify first that there was preliminary work, both human and Christian, to do: to put on their feet millions of human beings who find themselves in sub-human conditions; the work of helping them attain the first steps toward freedom (does it mean anything to speak of liberty and human rights to those who have neither house, real food, clothing worthy of people, nor the minimum of education, recreation or religious assistance – not even the minimum guarantee of work?…..)

By means not only of radio programs, but also by means of radio schools (possible thanks to transistors even in backward places where there is no electricity), the spirit of initiative, the sense of collaboration, the courage for living, the thirst for bettering oneself is being awakened.

In Brazil, the experiment is increasing in quantity and bettering itself in quality. For example, there has been for the formation of the directing Team for each Diocesan Radio and for the formation of the very important Monitors (soul of every Radio School) a Brazilian adaptation, a local adjusting of methods used in France by the “Popular Culture.”

The Christians of the world in development give themselves to the work of basic education, in complete loyalty with non-Christians. They fulfill a grave obligation of human solidarity. It is true they know that, besides other things, the education given may serve as a base for future catechetics.

One would think of:

  • the usefulness of an exchange of experience in basic education among Latin America, Africa and Asia.
  • the enriching that a human and Christian formation would receive when entities such as the International Center for Studies in Religious Formation of Brussels, would unite for a common study specialists in basic education from the various areas of the underdeveloped world.

We have already alluded to the well-known Institute of Catechetics and Pastoral, located in Belgium homeland of Cardijn, the creator of the JOC – Young Christian Worker movement but one would think of how the horizons of catechetics would be widened by the official recognition of all effort of formation exercised on their milieu by those who live or work as militants not only in the JOC but in all specialized Catholic Action.

Official catechetics would be richer and the militants would profit since specialists in catechetics could enrich even further the celebrated method of seeing, judging and acting which only recently received its consecration from the Holy See in Mater et Magistra. If we do not act thus, how will we reach the working masses which are still being lost to us in such a distressing way?

With regard to the immense mass of people in the large cities that escape even the minimum weekly contact with the Church, that is Sunday Mass, we should keep in mind that it is a case of taking into account, as catechetics, the effort of conquest (of the bettering that is always possible and desirable) made not only by the militants of specialized Catholic Action, but also by other institutions such as the Christian Family Movement or the Legion of Mary.

What can we do with the intellectuals who also escape us and that dangerously? What can we do in a special way with scientists and artists? Who has specialized experience in these fields?

There is a world to be said about the young in countries where the mass of population is heavily that of the young and where the number of those who can begin or follow studies is reduced. Often young students are more alert to great national and international problems than their own professors. It would be anti-psycological and unjust to say simply that they are ignorant. It would be a grave error to become irritated with them because they are preoccupied with matters that are more vital, more important and more explosive than the customary dullness of the studies that reach them. What type of broad and intelligent catechetics can we undertake in our Universities?

At times and it is necessary to recognize it, even though we remain alert to avoid exaggeration and abuse – especially in milieus such as Mohammedan or Marxist there is almost only one possibility: that of the cathetics of fraternal presence, the unpretending and loving example of life. Is this not the catechetics of the life of the Little Brothers and the Little Sisters of Père Foucauld?

It is especially important in this effort to broaden catechetics:

  • the preoccupation of awakening the sons of the rich (since it is already lat more difficult to awaken the parents), leading them with the aid of divine grace to the understanding of the gospel ideal of poverty and the effective and no practice of social justice;
  • the entrance of educators in the world of the worker. It is necessary urgently to put an end to free schools of second or third class which are made to function for the poor by the side of schools for the well-to-do…

It is understood that there will be educators for the sons of the employers. But it is urgent – also to reach the class that will direct the social order of tomorrow to create schools of good quality, of the best quality (which does not mean in any bandan way, luxury, which is always inconceivable in a school) for the sons of the workers.

How can we add and better the experiences we have in the line of a catechetics for masses by means of TV, cinema and radio (beyond the means mentioned when talking about basic education)?

How can we bring up to date and better the experiences of catechetics as cathechumenate in regions of Africa and Asia?

There is, among other problems, still that of catechetics (Christian formation) of the young people in socialist regimes who are indoctrinated with atheism and very understandably become inebriated with technological advance the maximum expression of which in our century is space travel.

When there are authentic parochial schools, especially when these schools do not stop with primary education, but reach into the high school level, we can think, and not without reason, of attaining the ideal in question of christian education, since it will not be a question of a class of religion grafted onto lay-teaching, but the entire education filled with Christian spirit. There are, of course, difficulties to overcome: it is necessary that the parochial schools do not, by any means, form closed groups; it is necessary to take care of the children of Christians without forgetting the necessity of presence in the public schools from the primary to the university level where the larger part of the children of the people study.



Preliminary observations:

– when we speak of our clergy, we think not only of the so-called “secular” clergy (an expression which should be changed), but also of the regular clergy, resident in our diocese, especially when they give themselves wholly or in part to the external apostolate; and also we think not only of the national clergy, but also of the foreign clergy.

– we begin from the presupposition that every Bishop (at least in theory) is convinced that he would be in a sad state without his clergy.

Let us end once and for all the impression of a Bishop-Prince, residing in a palace, isolated from his clergy whom he treats distantly and coldly. Let us end once and for all everything which may give to our priests the impression that they are seen and known only at the offices of the Diocesan Curia when they come to make payments or learn of new demands. Let us end, once and for all, the impression of authority which insists more, in practice, in making itself more feared than loved, of making itself served rather than in serving.

Who does not know that for an episcopal determination to fail to be effective in a parish, it is not necessary that the Pastor fight it: it is enough that he maintain himself reticent and cool? In order to answer for the flock which God has confided to us, in order to participate in the combined effort of the Ecclesiastical Province, of the region and of the country; in order to give life to the world and that always more abundantly, there is an initial price (later, we will make allusion to others): that is to form a team with the clergy, winning their confidence, loving them in act and in truth, being one with them.

There are pastoral visits which leave the impression of a “promotion” of the Bishop (in the publicity sense of the term) of a check-up on the Pastor and of burden and expense for the faithful. The ideal would be that we never be “visitors”: that we arrive in our own house; that we go to encourage and to be an instrument for the santification of the Pastor and the faithful.

What we wish of our clergy in the realm of planning and joint pastoral will only be obtained in the measure:

  • in which we give the example of unity with the other Bishops of the region, of the country, of the continent, and of the world;
  • in which the priest senses in us the Good Shepherd, the Father, the imitator of Him who came not to be served, but to serve.

Woe to the Bishop who gives the impression of having remembered from the Gospel the scene 

of the expulsion of the buyers and sellers from the Temple, having forgotten tens of other scenes of pure and infinite mercy. Life teaches us that if kindness does not resolve everything, that which kindness does not resolve will never be resolved by violence. Violence generates rebellious people, hypocrites and cowards according to the type of reaction of those affected by the violence.

Let us give to our clergy, among others, the examples of:

  • planned work, with the help of specialists of real competence;
  • permanent effort of sanctification, in terms of living the life of sanctifying grace and in a style proper to the spirituality of one who has been placed by Divine Providence, in the world, but not of it;
  • hierarchical order of activities, giving to the essential the value of the essential and to the relative, the value of the relative;

– methodical study, bound up with our deep vocation and with the duty of our state.

From whom, if not from us, will our priests, especially our pastors, learns

  • to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (and there is scandal to the faithful, especially in the measure in which the use of the Missal is extended, when the celebration is impossible to accompany);
  • to administer the sacraments (and it is necessary that the effort to arrive at a communitary liturgy, which begins to be spread out and participated, does not redound to scandal to the faithful);
  • to announce the word of God (there is a grave crisis in preaching). In reality the right and the duty to preach are of the Bishop. From us should go out the example of a preaching that is vital and vivifying;
  • to spend time forming laity, to whom we have the courage of confiding all that is not specifically priestly (what a beautiful and efficient manner of multiplying ourselves!).

Let us give to the clergy (and to the laity) the example of having no fear of sha- dows; of our joy in being surrounded by priests who are holier, more intelligent, more trained, harder workers, more capable, more understood and more loved than us. Let us promote the spirit of family that will bring us to share with all the joys and the sorrows, the hopes and the preoccupations, the works and the wearniness of each.

Let us make ourselves incapable of intrigues and incapable of reading anonymous letters (whoever does not have the moral courage to be responsible for information and accusations does not merit the respect of being heard).

When a priest is sick, whether in body or in soul, he should merit the solicitude of a son. When he is old, tired, worn out, he should find in us a father. When he is in danger, and especially when he falls, more than ever, he must discover in us Jesus Christ.

How can we face the serious problem of the maintenance of the clergy, especially in dioceses without income and of a poor people? How can we resolve the maintenance of priests in case of accident, old age or of illness which leaves them invalids?

Is Vatican II going to have the courage or not to think of our brothers in the priesthood, who have fallen on the way?…..

There are those who wish to return (and certainly at least by reason of jubilee should be readmitted to the celebration of Holy Mass, even if they had so lost their heads as to attempt a civil contract of matrimony).

There are those who prefer to maintain a family, but who dream of the possibility of leading a sacramental life.

All these considerations and many others that will occur to each one of us lead us to think of our Seminaries. In the measure in which we can answer more fully for the houses of formation of our clergy, the more we can attempt

and the help of specialists – achieve the exact measure of aggiornamento, beneath with the grace of God which we would have more routine and beyond which would be imprudence.

We will have to take care of the revision and modernization of the preparation of our clergy, with the example coming, once again, from us. Even in regions where there is an enormous amount of work, perhaps there can be discovered a practical method by which, as Bishops, we can have the studies necessary for the minimum of modernization (without transforming ourselves to specialists), that will make easier for us the acceptance of general leadership of the Church in our Diocese, a leadership which must remain with us, and which we cannot abandon.

And, if from the civil point of view, we are foreigners, let us relive the Pauline experience of being all things to all men to gain all for Jesus Christ. Let us identify ourselves to the limit with the country to which Providence has sent us and with the people reserved for us from all eternity. Let us not feel ourselves foreigners. Even thus, let us understand nationalist outbursts, exaggerated in our days, but with a background of validity whose ultimate roots touch on the plans of Providence itself. Hence the sacred obligation – in harmony with the Holy Father – to adopt, from the heart the attitude of the Precursor, preparing our retreat and the ascension of the native clergy. Who is there who still does not recognize the figure of Fr. Lebbe?

If, from the civil point of view, we are not foreigners, let us have understanding and kindness with foreign priests. Let us watch together with our native clergy, together with the laity, together with the authorities, to make less difficult the sacrifice of those who have abandoned all to help us in the evangelization of our country (of course, without prejudice to our preoccupation of forming a holy and ef- ficient local clergy).

If all that has been remembered here would be valid in any circumstances, more valid still will it be in face of the absolute necessity of promoting an attitude after-Council equal to that of the Council.

How will we be able to bring the beautiful written schemes to the living reality without the whole support and absolute collaboration of our clergy?


It is not our intention to anticipate the discussions that will arise in the Basilica of St. Peter with regard to the theology of the laity. We begin with the supposition that we will arrive, led by the Holy Spirit, to take into consideration:

  • the Church as “the society of the faithful” and the Church institution (to forget either of the two aspects would lead to dangerous onesideedness which we are resolved to avoid);
  • “the active function of the laity to lead History and the World of God, to Christ, each one according to his state”;
  • the hierarchical mission that gives to the Church its structure; the participation of the layman: in the dignity of the body of Christ; in its organization in functions; in the acts of its life;
  • the hierarchical principle and the communitary principle.

More important than arriving at exact definitions is to translate in the acts of our everyday living the beautiful theory of the laity. It happens that clericalism is instinctive in us, the forgetfulness in practice of the proper not-to-be substituted function which God reserves for the layman, situated as he is as the point linking the Church and the World.

There are those who affirm that they do not have laymen of confidence and of value. Would it be unjust to say that we have the laymen we deserve? How can we hope that well formed laymen fall from the skies if we do not spend time in forming our laity? There are those who are very demanding with the laymen who do appear disposed to work: demanding insofar as errors or lack of precision in the written or spoken word; manding insofar as rashness or imprudent or wrong attitudes are concerned. Would we have more patience with the laymen if we confronted the minimum of assistance given them with the years of Seminary we have had? And if even after more than 10 years of formation, we have our faults, what right have we to complain about those who have received so little?

If our Pastors see us using laymen on the diocesan level, in right measure, in that which touches the kingly, priestly and prophetic function of the Church, they will know how to mobilize the laity in an adequate way, calling them to collaborate so that the Parish may transform itself always more in a community of faith, of worship and of charity.

How can we arrive at community of faith without the layman helping us to increase the worth of our preaching, to vitalize and make more dynamic our catechetics, to promote and motivate the biblical movement?

How can we arrive at a community of worship without bringing the faithful not only to exterior attitudes, but to an always deeper living of their worship?

How can we arrive at a community of charity without bringing each Christian to be an apostle, a militant who assumes his responsibility to evangelize and to transform by the spirit of the Gospel all his milieus and the persons who live within these different milieus?

The example of our clergy ought to begin with the second phase of the Council: precisely to have layman with us in Rome – to help us think; to see clearly and certainly which areas are proper to them; to transmit to us the “sense of the faithful” and the perspectives of the world of today which they perceive in angles that escape our observation.

Why not admit, theoretically and practically that the preparatory and complementary function, especially in the part treating or temporal problems, belongs to the layman to exercise? In our world, spiritually divided and separated from the faith, why not give new value to the role of the layman in the defense and proclamation of the faith and in the regeneration of society?

Let us accept fully the apostolate of the laity and especially that of Catholic Action. How will we be able in any other way to arrive at the evangelization of the agrarian areas, the student groups, the independent and worker’s groups?

The non-Catholic observers would like to see at their side, not only one Catholic layman, as in the first session, but a group of laymen expressive of the five continents. Furthermore, these laymen will be necessary in the hour of bringing the Council to tr ansform itself in acts, in life.

We insist in underlining the necessity of putting ourselves on guard against clericalism. The habit of speaking in the pulpit to a passive audience that has no right to react, vitiates us in the mental attitude to always speak “ex cathedra,” we were the master of all domains, to whom is reserved in all matters the last word. 

It is the duty of the Hierarchy to motivate the layman to take new steps, by giving him a positive vote of confidence (and not only the calling to prudence, frequently necessary, but still negative). The daring attitudes of today prepare for the normal ones of tomorrow. The Church is not an organism which immobilizes more than it animates. Do the laymen, who are in the more daring positions, sense the confidence, the stimulation and the positive criticism rather than the lack of confidence, the suspicion of the Bishops? Do we not live in the Church, normally, in an attitude of hyprocrisy by which the Hierarchy is informed by halves, and their counsels are heard with respect but with lack of interest? In large measure, is it not by the visible lack of being up to date on the part of the Bishops and their fear of new things?

We are not, in general, well prepared for the dialogue with the laity. We are more accustomed to associations in which the members listen to us in silence and pay us reverent att ention than we are with groups of militants who use their own heads and have the courage and the confidence to say what they think. Also, it happens that we cannot count in the difficult hours on persons so lacking in form, so easily accommodated.

With our permanent hurry, it is simpler and easier to do things personally than to stop to teach, even though many times the matter concerns a function which a layman could carry out as well as or better than we.

In thinking of the Senate at the side of the Pope, we can and should take care to maintain, by his side, laymen, spokesmen for the rights of the laity and specialists in various specific areas. Very significant is the insistence with which the Holy See has promoted the World Congresses of the Apostolate of the Laity; and it is worth while meditating on the part that can be measured in the meetings as far as the standard of sanctity, culture and efficiency revealed by the laity.

It has been said that in apocalyptic ages we remember to appeal for the collaboration of the laity and in constantinian hours we forget them. Let us integrate once and In for all in theory and in practice the laity in our scheme of the Church. the difficult hours and in the calm hours, where clergy is lacking and where clergy abounds, let us remember that the layman has a mission proper to him which no one of us can exercise. We should not forget that normally, it does not belong to us to take a position with regard to concrete solutions in the temporal plane. This is the dominion of the laymen; we must come to have confidence in him and to respect his choice in this sector.

And in a revision of life, let us ask ourselves: when we returned from the first session of the Council, did we transmit to the faithful the spirit and the orientation of the Council? Did we stay only in the external acts, in the pomp of the opening, in the joy in meeting Bishops of other countries, to speak with a Yellow Bishop or to sit by the side of a Negro Bishop?

Are we consulting our clergy and our laity with respect to the capital points to be discussed in September?

Many Councils failed because their decisions were never put into practice (IV Council of the Lateran, for example). The Congregation of the Council, after Trent, in a work that was strongly centralized, succeeded by perserverance and tenacity in bringing the decisions to all the Church – which thus benefitted by a great reform. Our times of decentralization and universalization (after Trent the work in good part was limited to Europe) demand other instruments of action. What are they? How can we adapt the National Conferences to the work of concretely bringing the Council to a concrete realization which takes into account the national and continental differences?



There is a thesis which can be demonstrated historically: before engaging in reforms of any great depth, the Church has always met again with poverty. Hence it was providential that in Rome during the first phase of Vatican II there functioned a “Group of Poverty” (Bishops of the entire world who met to study the mystery of the Poor One and to discover practical ways to help the Church find again the lost paths of Poverty).

It is also known that in order to facilitate the union with our separated brethren, more important than the examination of points of doctrine is the return to Poverty. Here then are some practical suggestions which may help to serve as starting points for fraternal conversations of great range.

Shall we take the initiative to supress our own titles of Eminence, Beatitude, Excellency?

Shall we lose the obsession to be of the nobility and drop our coats of arms and mottos?

It seems like nothing, but how this creates distance between our clergy and our faithful! It separates us from our own century which has already adopted another style of life. It separates us, especially, from the workers and from the poor.

Let us simplify, we ourselves, our manner of dressing. Let us not make our moral strength and our authority depend upon the make of our car. Let us look very carefully at our residence.

It is well that in liturgical functions a certain splendor of cult be safeguarded (without, however, arriving at excess which, in determined areas, A might seem an afront). But in our common life, take care with expensive pectoral crosses and rings and (to give another example, related to those countries where the cassock is the clerical habit) care with silver-buckled shoes which today are ridiculous and out of place. There are small and simple cars, the use of which everyone understands and accepts. There are cars that scandalize and revolt. Let us not allow our residence to be called the Palace. But is it necessary that, as a fact, it be not a palace.

Even when we are speaking of the House of God, it is time to reconsider the problem Without doubt, we will always make ours the words of Solomon of its construction.

at the Consecration of the Temple of Jerusalem, and we always recall the word of Christ to Judas when He defended Magdalen. But when there are two-thirds of the world in underdevelopment and in hunger, how can we squander money in the construction of Temples of stone while we forget the living Christ, present in the person of the poor?.. And when will we learn that in Churches that are too grandiose, the poor do not have the courage to enter, do not feel themselves at home?

Remembering that the Church does not bind itself to styles or types of construction; remembering that She has always been the teacher who puts at the service of God the material and the techniques of each century; remembering especially the growing millions of poor in our day in revolting contrast with the comfort and luxury of the few; remembering yet that adding together all the Christian families, we are a minority and a minority that, in the proximate decades will be even smaller, let us stimulate our young architects to discover types of Churches that will be:

  • beautiful and simple;
  • liturgical and functional;
  • awaken and nourish the sense of religion, but without ostentation or arrogance.

Let the Houses of God rise about the houses of men, brothers among themselves, open, welcoming, poor in the Gospel sense.

What has been suggested with regard to Temples is valid also for sacred furnishings. That they be worthy, beautiful, but bear no affront to the poor.

All that has been said until now, although important, is still in a certain way exterior. The essential thing is the mentality.

Let us have courage for a revision of conscience and of life: have we or not adopted a capitalist mentality, methods and processes which would fit bankers very well, but which perhaps are not very appropriate in one who is an other Christ?

In our anxiety to provide for or to bring up to date the patrimony of the Curia, of parishes or of other works, do we stay within the limits that are acceptable for those who incarnate in the eyes of the people, the doctrine of the Gospel?

Are there cases of latifundiary Churches? Are there cases of Dioceses that are unjust with their workers, with their functionaries, with their teachers?

We speak of mentality. A curious test to make is to verify to what degree our language is bourgeois (and the word is or should be the incarnation of the thought). Knowing how to speak to the rich and to the middle class, do we also know how to speak to workers and to the poor?

A very serious meditation to make also – before God whom we cannot deceive – is about the treatment we give to the rich. The ideal is that, to the rich – without humiliating, without wounding, without shadow of hate, without exaggerating, speaking by pre- ference to restricted groups – we do not falsify, nor excessively weaken the impressing admonitions which Christ left them. May they not accuse us before the Supreme Judge of having capitulated and become conniving and spiritless in the face of alms received. It is said of St. Francis de Paul that when he received gold coins from the King of Naples who was guilty of usurpation and injustice, he broke miraculously one of the coins and blood flowed from it. May there not be sweat and blood in the alms we receive!

All this changing of mentality demands a deepening of the Theology of Poverty. It is said, with reason, that our manuals of theology give excessive space to the treatment of purity and speak certainly less (and in a manner out of date and lacking in courage) on the Seventh Commandment. It is said, with reason, that we should deepen the doctrinal significance of the scene of the Last Judgment as have been deepened the passages of Scripture such as “Thou art Peter” or “This is My body.”

Might it be or not the case to take advantage of the closing Mass of the Council – as has been suggested to place at the feet of the Holy Father our pectoral crosses of gold and silver (to receive one of bronze or of wood), in a gesture symbolic of one who decides to adopt, with the grace of God, a style of life in keeping with the simplicity of the Gospel?….. Perhaps it may be the way in which the Bishops of the whole world may help here also to free the Vicar of Christ. And let us have the courage to recognize that the splendor of the Vatican is a great stone of scandal to remove from the path.

Providence has already freed us of the Pontifical States. When will the hour of God sound forth that will bring the Church of Christ to meet again with Lady Poverty?

++   ++


When the first phase of the Council ended on the 8th of December 1962, God permitted us a closing Mass that was liturgically much richer than the Opening Mass: Bishops of the entire world dialogued with the Celebrant and sand the Mass de Angelis. For the final Mass of the Council, would it be too much to think of a general concelebration of the Bishops with the Holy Father? Would there be insoluble practical problems? At any rate, we can think of concelebration with the representatives of all rites and of all continents. This would be a closing worthy of Vatican II.

But there is also in the line of an adequate closing, a closing adequate to the dimentions of the Council, a dream, the expediency of which only the Holy Father will be able to judge definitively, but with respect to which it may be useful to hear the opinion of the Council Fathers.

Let us, from the beginning, recall two very important observations:

a) What the people understood as the purpose of the Council was, above all, the union of the Churches. From this came the great appeal with which the Council was surrounded. Imagine the moral effect if not only all the Christian families, but if all men of good will at the hour of the closing of the Council could give a tangible proof to the world thirst for unity!…..

b) No matter how much each of us personally may be averse toward anything that smacks of demagogery, we cannot fail to take into consideration that we are in the age of the press, of radio, of cinema and of TV. Vatican II cannot end within the Basilica: it must come out to the Square of Saint Peter in a spectacle that publicity will take to the entire world.

Imagine then, the Square prepared for its great days: with loud-speakers for groups of languages; screens for movies and TV; overflowing with people. We would participate then in a ceremony entitled “Prayer for Unity” (to call it a spectacle is not to use a name that is adequate, because here we treat of a real scene, living and lived, although psychologically prepared by spectacles).

After hearing the bells of St. Peter’s and the flourish of the silver trumpets, a speaker (who would not appear) would enter first saying something like this:

“No matter how accustomed we may have become to great emotions, no matter how the happenings of this century may from time to time move us by surprise and by their greatness, even so this night will engrave itself forever not only in the eyes and hearts of Christians, but in the eyes and hearts of as many as, in the Square of St. Peter or by means of Radio and TV, participate in the Mystery which will unfold before us. Imagine that we are going to see, as a beginning, united, praying the same prayer for the unity of the Church, the Leaders of all the Christian Families. Let us pr epare ourselves spiritually for a scene so evangelical, so Christian.”

At this point, increasing the suspense and helping the preparation to be desired, there will be:

  • in a more simple line:
  • music, composed especially for the scene, translating with intensity the spirit of the Prayer of Christ at the Last Supper;
  • in a more daring line:

the ballet “The Tunic Without Seam” to be confided to a group such

as Sadler Wells or the American Ballet, being broken down in to four movements:

Joy: because the soldiers have not ripped the tunic;

Anguish: before the terrible and constant dangers of tunic being torn (dangers within and without), coming from men or inspired by the devil;

Peace: the tunic is felt to be protected from on High;

Thirst: to cover not only the physical body, but also the Mystical Body of Christ.

When the music of the ballet has ended, the speaker once again enters with rapid information:

“And now, let us assist at the meeting of the Chiefs of all the Christian Families and let us accompany with our hearts the prayer which they make for the unity of the Church.

The Pope, clothed in white cassock and surrounded by five Cardinals (one from each Continent) comes to meet the Leaders of the Christian Families who have answered his invitation. Together all pray for the unity of the Church, a prayer whose text will

have been sent to all (with the right to modifying proposals) together with the invitation of the Pope.

Again, the speaker enters (always without being seen) saying:

“Let us prepare ourselves for deeper sentiment and purer joys. The Pope, surrounded by the other Leaders of the Christian Families, is going to speak to the Grand Rabbi. Few dialogues in the course of the cen turies have had the significance or the beauty of the words which will be spoken here. But, once again, let us prepare ourselves to live scenes that are so great.”

At this point, there will be:

in a simpler line:

music, composed especially for the scene, translating with intensity the drama of the chosen people: their vocation, their history, led directly by God (the patriarchs, the judges, the kings, the prophets pass by), their age-long suffering…..

in a more daring line:

the speaker will add: “Let us call forth figures that are beloved of us, of them and of us. It was difficult to choose three scenes. We will see the vocation of Abraham; the burning bush which called Moses and David dancing before the Ark.”

1st scene: The Patriarch does not rise before our eyes. The sacrificial fire to which Isaac is prepared is seen. Thanks to his disposition to immolate his son, Abraham is abundantly blessed by the Lord. The scene is interpreted by a Choir from Israel such as that of Eitan Lusting, of the Cultural Department of Istradrut.

2nd scene: Moses is not visible. The burning bush comes into view: once again the scene is interpreted by the Choir from Israel.

3rd scene: David will be interpreted by a balarino such as Jean Babillé (music of a Darius Milhaud or José Limon).

The music or the ballet being finished, the Pope, surrounded by the Leaders of the Christian Families, will say to the Grand Rabbi:

“Grand Rabbi, here I am in the name of the Catholic Church to ask your pardon. Yes, you have heard well, to ask your pardon. Throughout centuries, forgetting the command of Christ, we have given to the world the sad example of persecuting your people. If it is true that in the last years we have opened doors and hearts to Israel, at any rate, the scandal had been given. How many times, as we saw persecutions falling on the Jews, we thought sadly that perhaps the bad example of yesterday served as inspiration for the persecutions of today.

“Forgive us, Grand Rabbi. And we have such confidence in your religious spirit that we do not hesitate to invite you to pray with us for the glory

of God, for the peace of the world and for the happiness of men. will be very easy to find in your and our Solomon, in your and our David, words which we can say together.”

Together they say a prayer which will have been sent beforehand to the Grand Rabbi (with the right of modifying proposals) when the invitation of the Pope is transmitted.

For a third time the speaker enters:

“It might appear impossible to go further. Nevertheless, there are with us, to pray with the Christians and the Jews, the Leaders of the great non-Christian and non-Jewish religions. There will be the miracle of all uniting to pray a single prayer.

“As always we will prepare ourselves for the Mystery, absorbing ourselves in music.”

There will be heard a Symphony (the creation of a man such as Stravinsky, Hindemitt Orff or Nino Rotta, Pig Mangiagale or Gian Carlos Menotti), executed by an orchestra such as the Academy of St. Cecilia.

In the Overture, there should be felt the religious hymns dearest to Mohammedans, Brahamists, Buddhists and Shintoists.

The Symphony will develop in four movements, each one corresponding to one of the four religions.

When the music has finished, the Pope, the Leaders of the other Christian Families and the Grand Rabbi will go to meet the spiritual leaders of Islam, Braham, Budhi sm and Shintoism. All together will pray the same prayer which will be shown to them beforehand (with right to modifying proposals) when the invitation of the Pope will be transmitted to them.

The speaker finally says:

“Scenes such as we have just witnessed will rarely again be seen on this earth. We cannot lose the absolutely exceptional circumstances of this night.”

In a simpler line:

“Let us unite ourselves with the spiritual leaders of the world to beseech God in favoring those without faith and especially for those without God or against God.”

And there would be a prayer filled with anguish, interceeding for those who have not the happiness of believing (a prayer whose text will have been sent to all, with the right of modifying proposals, when the invitation of the Pope will be sent to them).

The Mystery would end, the people seeing, filled with wonder, the Spiritual Leaders of the world embracing one another in the Center of the Square.

In a more daring line

The speaker will say:

“Let us unite ourselves with the spiritual Leaders of the world asking in behalf of humanity the greatest petitions which in this tragic hour can be made in behalf of the world.”

The Pope:

“Let us beseech God for the conquering of selfishness which brings the world to the absurdity of two-thirds of humanity remaining in under-development and in hunger. Let us implore God that a fraternal and substantial dialogue without second intentions begin between the developed and the under-developed countries. For this prayer, let us inspire ourselves in that which we will see and hear.”

(A Director, such as Vittorio de Sica or Fellini, will prepare scenes which can be projected, showing in a real manner the scandal which is perhaps the greatest social problem of our time.

(The musical background chosen and the indications by language zones should create the atmosphere desired by the Pope. At the end of the projections, there will be heard again, as an echo, weakly, the appeal of the Pope).

The Pope:

“Let us implore God to give to men peace with justice. that He remove from us the horror of a new war. let us inspire ourselves in what we will see and hear.”

(A Director, such as Allain Resnais or Stanley Kubrick, will prepare scenes which can be projected, showing how an atomic war can be the end of humanity).

When the projections have ended, trumpets will announce an urgent news report:

Corresponding to the direct appeal of the Pope, and in keeping with the scenes seen today in the Square of St. Peter, all the Great Atomic Powers have just fired projectiles of Peace of the type of Uni-Vision.

(And the reporter will say what has been done by each country).

The Pope:

Let us ask the gift of “Let us lift up to God our last prayer. faith for those who have not the happiness of believing, especially those who are without God or against God.”

The entire Square will put itself in an attitude of prayer, each according to his own ritual.

The spectacle will end with the crowd witnessing the Pope greeting all the spiritual Leaders of humanity.



It is important undoubtedly that the Second Council of the Vatican correspond to all the plans of Providence and answer fully all the necessities of the Church and the longings of humanity. But it is at least as equally important that the after-Council be of the same stature as the Council.

It would be sad if the Second Council of the Vatican reached excellent Decrees, but Decrees which remained on paper, unapplied. In short, we would fall into discredit and ridicule.

Let us not deceive ourselves, however: it is easier to realize the Council than truly to bring its proposals to concrete reality. As always, here are suggestions around which we can converse.

Let us help one another in such a way as to avoid that there be Bishop-spectators in the Basilica of St. Peter. The important thing is not to speak in the Council Hall but rather not to remain as if we were before a stage or a movie screen. It is to enter fully in the matters debated and to adopt wholeheartedly the conclusions approved, no matter how much we personally were of the opposite opinion.

Being almost impossible for the Council to end in December of this year, we might well anticipate a Plan for full engagement after-Council.

The Plan presupposes a practical measure, of great advantage for conjoint activities: let us attempt to bring our Episcopal Conferences to adopt, in Rome, the same day and same hour of meeting. Say: Mondays at 5:00 P. M.

So that we may all benefit to the fullest of the privilege of having at our disposition in Rome specialists, clerical and lay, who are present at the Council, the Secretariats of our Conferences can make a plan of talks. It is evident that we should be careful to ask the lecturers to comment on the extent of each conclusion approved in Vatican II: its doctrinal roots, its real significance, the manner of making it concrete.

But let us be loyal to ourselves and to the Church: it is not enough to know the conclusions and to hear erudite conferences about them. We have to stop before them in the sincere wish to understand and to adopt them.

Only a person really convinced, only a person really enthused can transmit the flame. And we have to fill our clergy and our laity with the spirit of the Council, giving them the duty of being, with the help of God’s grace, the missionaries of Vatican II.

Let us convert ourselves in Rome (if a conversion be necessary) to the idea of not wanting our Diocese isolated. Let us try to work it into the Region, the Country, the Continent, the World. Let us enter into a contact soon in Rome with our neighboring Dioceses to lay a solid base for a Con-joint pastoral.

More than ever will we need sanctity. Personal sanctity, sanctity on the part of our clergy, sanctity on the part of our laity.

Only in the measure in which we live the Divine Life within us and in the measure of our union with Christ, will we make of the conclusions of the Council a sacred mission to fulfill, a reform to undertake. A model, among others, to have always before our eyes, will be for us, Bishops, St. Charles Borromeo.

Let us take care that without a loss of time, but also without the precipitation that would compromise us, we complete on the national and regional plane everything that the Council has left dependent on the action of our Conferences. And let us follow, with great int erest, the complementary work of any post-Council Commission created in Vatican II.

Let us know how to win our clergy to the conclusions of the Council. This will be easy when it is a question of conclusions according to the line desired by our priests. It will be difficult, but indispensible when it is a question of conclusions that are less in harmony with their aspirations whether manifest or occult. With their collaboration we will speak alone.

Let us mobilize at once our laity so that they may help us lead a real life, to transform the conclusions of the Council in action. It is necessary that they reach the families, the professional milieus, recreational activities, establishments of learning, all the centers of life or of activity. It is necessary to utilize intelligently the means of publicity and the techniques of diffusion of ideas and of group discussion.

Let us have special care in bringing the other Christian Families and non-Christian groups to know the conclusions of the Council. We should attempt all that can help good-will, prepare ways, open doors and predispose for dialogue.

Probably, the work of our theologians will have to be completed:

  • by sociologists who can look to the adaptation of the general conclusions of the Council to the different Continents, regions or countries;
  • by representatives of the various environments of living or of working so that the Message of the Council may reach all in intelligible terms, safeguarding, as is evident, doctrinal fidelity.

If we have already taken care to ask for prayer and sacrifice for the elaboration of the Council, even more we should be able to count on prayer and sacrifice in favor of the Council’s transforming itself in life.

The sick, the children, the souls consecrated to God in a special way should merit our special attention.

Let us have the humility to ask from non-Catholic Christians and from non-Catholic believers that they pray to God for the concrete realization of the Council.

Let us mobilize the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant in favor of the mission which Providence confides to us: that of those directly responsible under the leadership of Peter and under the action of the Holy Spirit to bring Vatican II from paper to life.

Let us exchange, mutually, information about after-Council in our Dioceses, in our Countries, in our Continents, Let us make the difficulties or the victories of each one the difficulties and the victories of the whole Church.

And in a revision of life, let us ask ourselves: when we returned from the first session of the Council, did we transmit to the faithful the spirit and the orientation of the Council? Did we remain only in external acts, in the pomp of the opening, in the joy that was ours in meeting a yellow skinned man or seated beside a Negro?

Are we consulting with the clergy and the laity on the basic points to be discussed in September.

Many Councils have failed because its decisions were not put into practice (the IV Council of Lateran, for example). The Congregation of the Council, after Trent, through a centralizing effort achieved, with perserverance and tenacity, to carry the decisions to the whole Church so that she went through a great reform. Our times of decentralization and universalization (after Trent, a great part of the work limited itself to Europe), call for other instruments of action. Which ones? How should the National Conferences be adapted for the task of attaining concrete achievement, taking into account the national and continental differences?

New York, New York 12 July 1963


Archives François Houtart, Université de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve