Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Second Vatican Council

The most visited spot in the state of Morelos is the simple and austere Roman Catholic cathedral in downtown Cuernavaca. Built as a church in the early 1500’s, Franciscan friars served as its amateur architects and its indigenous laborers had never built a Roman arch or a vaulted ceiling. Look carefully and you will see Roman arches lacking keystones and other glaring architectural mistakes. But these don’t take away from its beauty. Wonderful modern stained glass set in 16th century windows. A single nave with glimpses of rescued murals. Monastic construction combined with mid 20th century modern church interior design.

It wasn’t always this way.  It used to be ornately decorated with side altars and images of saints. In 1957 Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo closed the sanctuary and completely remodeled it.  In his words, "we removed all the deformations that had been added over time.  It was an exemplary historical reconstruction, in which I put in place my ideas as a doctor of church history.  In the resulting interior space we placed modern furnishings that go along with the liturgical renovations that have been adopted by the Church. " The result?  "It shook up public opinion."  

It shook up public opinion so much that Bishop Mendez Arceo had to write a pastoral letter explaining the changes.  Not only had he renovated the building, but he had also removed all images of saints, leaving only Jesus on the cross and Mary looking up at Him.  In his newly remodeled cathedral Don Sergio started celebrating Mass in Spanish instead of Latin and he replaced German organ music with Mariachi musicians playing church music composed in Latin America.  Referred to as the Mariachi Mass, its proper name is the Panamerican Mass.  It continues to be celebrated Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.     

Bishop Mendez Arceo was ahead of his time. While he was renovating his church in Cuernavaca, the newly elected Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council, to begin in October 1962. Ultimately this council would encourage changes to the liturgy similar to the ones Mendez Arceo had already made.

As part of this year's 50th anniversary celebration of the Second Vatican Council, the Don Sergio Mendez Arceo Foundation will publish Don Sergio's thirty-five letters home from the Council on the anniversary of each letter.  Not only will we be treated to an insider's view of the proceedings, but church historian Father Angel Sánchez will preface each letter with historical context of the events the Bishop describes.

According to Fr. Angel, Cuernavaca's bishop was one of the most active participants in the Council, attending all four sessions spanning four years.  Bishop Mendez Arceo was one of only two Latin American bishops who wrote home to their dioceses about the goings-on at the Council.  He sent his letters to the editor of a statewide newspaper, Correo del Sur, not to the diocese.   In doing so he was addressing all the people in the diocese, not only Catholics. 

Pope John XXIII set out to improve dialogue and relations with non-Catholic Christians with the Second Vatican Council.  Six hundred Protestant and Orthodox church leaders participated in the inaugural ceremony on October 11, 1962 in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.   

I felt the effects of this ecumenical resurgence while growing up in Colombia.  My father, a Presbyterian missionary, studied the persecution of Protestants by Catholics throughout Colombia in the late 1940s and 1950s.  He documented hundreds of burnings and bombings along with the closing of Protestant churches, schools, clinics, and orphanages.  It was a dark chapter of Colombian history. All that abruptly came to an end with a photo published on the front page of Colombia’s newspapers. The photo showed Pope John XXIII with his arm around the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

This ecumenical embrace, and the outcome of the Second Vatican Council, not only brought the persecution of Protestants to an end but started a new era of cooperation. My parents, James and Margaret Goff, later found it easier to work with progressive Catholics than with Protestants. They were invited by the Maryknoll Order to run their press service in Lima, Peru. Later they worked in Nicaragua with the Antonio Valdivieso Ecumenical Center, headed by a Dominican priest.

Bishop Mendez Arceo submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II at the age of 75. He reminded his congregation that he had been a delegate at the Synod of Bishops in Rome where he voted in favor of Paul VI's proposal that bishops retire at age 75.  He also told them he had made a proposal that wasn't approved by his brother bishops -- that popes also resign at age 75. 

On another matter, next Tuesday is celebrated as the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, although it will be observed on Monday.  There are three Charlie's Digs -- posted in November 2010 -- on the topic of the Revolution posted at <charliesdigs.blogspot.com>.

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