How John XXIII Changed History of Church and World

Statements by His Private Secretary, Bishop Loris Capovilla

ROME, AUGUST 24 ( On September 3, John Paul II will beatify John XXIII. Archbishop Loris Capovilla, Pope John XXIII's private secretary, at present Pontifical Delegate Bishop for the Loreto Shrine, worked alongside the pontificate that marked a decisive change for the Church in the 20th century. The following is an interview with Archbishop Capovilla on the «Good Pope,» which was published in the Italian magazine, «Jesus.»

-- When did you learn that the Pope decided to convoke the Council?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: I must first state a premise. One morning in January of 1963, he was already close to the end of his life, when I was going to call him to celebrate Mass, he said: «This is a letter for you.» It was a sort of testament. In that letter, which I have not published until now, he asked me to talk about everything that referred to the preparation of the Council, considering me a faithful witness of the preparation of that great ecclesial event and the development of the first session. The letter is dated January 28, 1963. Among other things, it states: «Now I think that the most indicated witness and faithful exponent of this 'Vatican II' is precisely you, dear Monsignor, and that you must consider yourself authorized to accept this commitment and to honor it, which will honor the Church, and entitle you to blessings and beautiful recompense on earth and in heaven.»

Feeling that I am authorized, I answer your questions with great pleasure. I learned the decision to convoke a Council for the first time on November 2, 1958. John XXIII had been Pope for five days. He spoke to me about it for the second time on November 21, during the first trip outside the Vatican, on the way to Castel Gandolfo. The third time was in the days immediately preceding Christmas of that year.

-- He was to be a transition Pope. Did you think this as well?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: Yes, I also thought this. It seemed natural to me, from an all too human point of view, that a man elected Pope at 77, against all expectations of those in the know, should not have to plan extraordinary undertakings. Everyone expected his quick pass through the See of Peter and, above all, a broad testimony of charity. Moreover, what do we ordinarily expect from an elderly man? If he is a priest, a blessing, word and good works, and a sense of mercy toward all is enough. Humanity would have been equally grateful to John XXIII if he had been happy to remain faithful to the introduction he made of himself on the day of his enthronement: «Here is your new Pope, I am John, your brother.»

-- It is said that the Church's patience is like that of the seed under the earth. In the end, the Christian is someone who waits. Was Pope John's patience like this or was he eager to see his hopes realized?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: Suffice it to think of the afternoon of October 11. When I went to tell him that the Square was crowded with faithful because of that famous smoke, Pope John said to me: «Enough has been done for today with the address opening the Council. I have no intention of saying anything more. I will go to the window and give the blessing.»

However, later came his brief but moving and memorable address, known for mentioning the moon and patting of children. He came back in and, sitting down in an armchair, ended simply: «I did not expect so much. It would have been enough to announce the Council. God has already allowed me to get it underway.» This shows that Pope John was anything but impatient. There is a social suffering that does not ennoble man, but profanes him, Angelo Roncalli used to say; justice and joy are liberating victories.

-- Was this Pope John XXIII's optimism?

-- Archbishop Capolvilla: He often repeated an aphorism attributed to St. Bernard: «See everything, endure much, correct only one thing at a time.» He added: «However, work always, and do not turn the pillow over to sleep.» Yes, Pope John was an optimist. «I have never known a pessimist who finished something well. As we have been called to do good, more than to destroy evil, to build more than to demolish, that is why I think I have everything in order and must continue on my way seeking the good, without giving any more than due importance to the different ways of conceiving life and playing it,» he said.

-- He made us understand that it was not enough to combat sufferings in face of a freer future society and future happiness, rather it is necessary to free ourselves from suffering today, day by day. Was this Pope John XXIII's Catholic realism?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: Yes, but a realism that above all wanted to be witness and presence, courageous action and tireless dynamism. I could tell you an expression he liked very much. He repeated it to Jean Guitton one day on the terrace of Castel Gandolfo: «Do you see these wise men of the Vatican Astronomical Observatory? They have complicated instruments to look at the moon and the stars. I am happy to walk with me eyes open in the light of the stars, like the Patriarch Abraham.»

-- Was he aware that he was liked by secularized society and the indifferent, and of the suspicion that these fondnesses occasioned?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: Yes, there is also a note in his personal diary: «Sometimes the fact of enjoying such high esteem and of being praised by people who do not have faith, or have little, humbles me, because it exposes me to the danger of being considered by many as being too condescending. However, I think I can say that I do not deny the truth, nor diminish it before anyone. I try to combine motives of truth and charity. That is why all doors are open to me.»

-- Did he have an affliction, especially at the end of his pontificate?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: Not one affliction, but many afflictions. I remember how much was said then about his gestures, actions, writings; how the encyclical «Pacem in Terris» itself was the object of controversy. I saw him many times not just suffering but crying. However, this did not rob him of interior peace.

-- Did he die peacefully?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: Yes. At the end of his life, his collaborators wept around his bed. He never cried a single tear.

-- How was your farewell?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: I said my farewell to Pope John on May 31, 1963, when I told him his life was ending. I went up to his bed and I said: «Holy Father, I fulfill my duty, as we agreed. I will do to you what you did with your Bishop, Monsignor Radini. I come to tell you that the hour of the end has arrived». You can imagine my feelings. He took me by the hand, he said words to me that I keep as an indelible memory of my service by his side and, afterwards, with calmness and delicacy, he concluded: «We have worked, we have served the Church. We have not stopped to pick up the stones that were thrown at us from different parts, and we haven't thrown them back at anyone.»

-- Why has this simple and open dialogue been possible between me, a member of secularized society, and you, an Archbishop?

-- Archbishop Capovilla: It has been possible because you and I are «prisoners.» Remember the words of Pope John on December 26, 1958, when he visited the «Regina Coeli» prison, and he came out with that certainly new expression: «Here we are in the Father's house.» What? The prison, the Father's house? «I have placed my eyes in your eyes, my heart in your heart,» were words that were said rapidly, but those prisoners believed the one who said them. Then, without dividing bars, prisoners on one side, and the Pope on the other, they became a family. You and I are also prisoners because at times something hinders us from seeing our brothers. We are hindered by our limitations, our passions, our weaknesses. If, however, through those bars the light of two good eyes passes, the warmth of sincere witness, then we feel like brothers.

Zenit - The World Seen From Rome

av Webmaster publisert 27.08.2000, sist endret 27.08.2000 - 21:15