Research centre to mine insights of Vatican II

 — Oct. 13, 201113 oct. 2011

by Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

A new research centre at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University will study the contribution Canadians made to Vatican II as well as how the Council has shaped religious communities here.

A year before the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the Research Centre for Vatican II and 21st Century Catholicism launched Oct. 13. It will examine ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in contemporary society and look at issues of progress and decline in the Catholic community.

“I hope we find a way to help contemporary young Catholics, other Christians and non-Christians to understand the commitment and the opening of the Catholic Church to the world, to contemporary society and to contemporary issues,” said Saint Paul theology professor Catherine Clifford, one of Centre’s co-founders, in an interview.

Clifford noted that while she is a child of the conciliar period, she is teaching courses on the Council as history. “We have to be clear, we’re not the same Church that we were 50 years ago and we’re not living in the same world.”

The Council showed the Church’s commitment to be in dialogue with others and to seek unity with Christian churches, she said. It also sparked a commitment to dialogue with other religions.

“All of these rest on the principle of religious freedom, which was one of the most contested points of the Council’s teaching,” she said.

Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue takes on a new significance in the present context where the migration of peoples over the past 50 years have created a much more religiously pluralistic society today than in 1962, she said.

The Council opened up ways to think about these issues, and the challenge of the centre will be to “think about them in new ways” and build on the heritage of Vatican II, she said. The focus will not so much be on the documents of the Council but on a “correct understanding of them.”

“How do we translate those insights for our present context, that’s the challenge,” she said.

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., told the gathering ecumenism had been a great part of his initial formation in theology and Scripture, noting that he was the first Roman Catholic hired at the Atlantic School of Theology, which was a union of Catholic, United and Anglicans, and a fruit of the Council.

Prendergast, who marked his 50th anniversary as a Jesuit last summer, said he entered the Society of Jesus “on the cusp of the Second Vatican Council.” Over the past 16 years as a bishop, Prendergast said he has been learning how to deal with the tensions the Council has produced.

“We’re good guys or bad guys depending on which side we take on any particular issue,” he said.

“But we’re trying to solidify, and to unify and to keep together all the tensions that were invoked by the Council and are still with us. I hope the Centre will illuminate and keep current the fruits of the Council.”

The Centre released its first book at the launch, Vatican II: Canadian Experiences co-edited by Clifford and Centre co-founders Gilles Routhier (Université Laval, Québec) and Michael Attridge (St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto). The book brings together the papers presented at three colloquia held at each of the participating universities.

Routhier has studied extensively the contribution of Canadians, especially Quebeckers, to Vatican II.

“The Council was for them an opportunity to renew their vision of the Church and the way to live the Church,” he said, noting that Montreal Cardinal Paul-Émile Leger “was one of the major conciliar fathers at that time.”

Quebec bishops and theologians also contributed on social questions, such as lay participation, social communication and ecumenism, he said.

Routhier said he hoped the Centre would prevent amnesia from developing about the Council, so that in keeping the memory alive “we can live it.”

McGill emeritus religious studies professor Gregory Baum, who served as a peritus or advisor to the Council’s Ecumenical Secretariat, helped draft Nostra Aetate on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions. Routhier pointed out Baum’s experience as a Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism helped him to understand the relationship between Jews and Christians.

“The Council was an event in which the Catholic Church revealed its creativity, its ability to reread the Gospel and rethink its situation in the world and adopt a new attitude and rethink her mission,” said Baum, who was among the 100 or so faculty and guests at the launch. “I think it was a great event and we’re still trying to understand and apply what happened at that time.”

The Centre, in conjunction with Novalis/Bayard, is putting on a national, bilingual conference next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council. It will feature international keynote speakers such as American theologian Richard Gaillardetz, panel discussions with those who participated in the Council, the interpretation of Vatican II by successive generations and the challenges facing the Church today.

Posted: Oct. 13, 2011 • Permanent link:
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