Published October 13, 2022
Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 1962. Three years of preparatory work had set the stage for an extraordinary five-hour pageant, as 2,500 Catholic bishops, each vested in white cope and miter, processed into the Vatican basilica. They sat in tiered, upholstered bleachers that filled the vast nave of St. Peter’s from Bernini’s baldacchino above the high altar to the red porphyry disk near the narthex on which Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as holy Roman emperor.
The largest legislative body in human history would begin its formal work on Oct. 13, after a day pondering John XXIII’s magisterial opening address. In that 37-minute Latin discourse, the pope challenged the church to heal the wounds of a world that had almost destroyed itself in two world wars—and to do so by proclaiming Jesus Christ as the answer to modernity’s quest for an authentic humanism.
George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.