October 11, 2012, Thursday — Fifty Years After

Pope Benedict cites John XXIII


Candles in the piazza

Pope Benedict was nostalgic this evening in Rome, as a candlelight procession entered St. Peter’s Square to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the St. Vatican Council on October 11, 1962.

(Pope Benedict in Rome this evening, speaking to a gathering of faithful holding candles in St. Peter’s Square)

“I too was in this piazza 50 years ago, when Blessed John XXIII spoke his unforgettable words from his heart,” said Benedict, now 85, but only 35 on that day 50 years ago.

“That night we were happy, full of enthusiasm, sure of a new springtime, a new Pentecost with the liberating grace of the Gospel,” Benedict said.

Tonight, some 40,000 people were in the piazza, invited by Italy’s “Catholic Action” movement and by the diocese of Rome. (Left, photo of the crowd which gathered in the piazza this evening)

They were there to recall the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which ran from 1962 to 1965, but also something else: a famous discourse of Pope John XXIII on that same evening, his so-called “Discourse Under the Moon,” which shone beautifully that night, and was shining again tonight.

Vatican II had begun that morning in 1962, with 3,000 bishops processing into the basilica to begin the largest gathering of Catholic bishops — the largest Ecumenical Council — of all time. And a Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization began here on Sunday, and a special “Year of Faith,” which will end in November, 2013, was inaugurated here this morning, on the 50th anniversary of the Council’s opening.

“Today,” Pope Benedict said, “our joy is more sober, humble. We have learned and experienced that original sin exists and is made concrete in personal sins, which can become structures of sin.”

What sins was the Pope referring to?

He did not say specifically, but we all know how many sins have marred the life of Christ’s Church in our time.

And we know how many sins and crimes and evil laws have filled our 21st-century world with evil and injustice, especially against the weak and innocent, and we know that many of these sins and crimes are no longer even called evils, so that our very consciences, our sense of what is right and what is wrong, seem to have been changed during this last age, as things once thought self-evidently shameful seem no longer to be felt shameful, and things sorrowed over and calling us to repentance, no longer seem to cause any sorrow.

A phrase from Dante seems to express the predicament of our whole culture, the predicament of our self-understanding, our underastanding of what it means to be human: “So low had he fallen that he no longer considered himself worthy even of being damned.”

We no longer believe we have an eternal horizon, a transcendent destiny.

We have lost faith, not simply in a divinity who could save us, but in a humanity, our humanity, capable of being saved.

We seem to believe that we are chemicals, and nothing more.

And this loss of the sense of our profound, if obscured, dignity, our worth as conscious, though limited, beings (despite the testimony of the marvelous productions of our genius), is the sign of our alienation from ourselves and our deepest nature, which we seem to have forgotten, as if it never was…

And as a consequence, love must grow cold, for love, true love, is only possible between persons, and persons transcend chemicals, and reflect, as in a mirror, a spark of divinity.

And it was of love that the Pope then spoke tonight.

Of love between parents and children.

Of love between a Pope and people, for all that Benedict does is aimed, in the end, at protecting the very possibility of love in an age which increasingly is one of impersonal impulses, chemicals, and drives, where the flame of love inevitably, at last, flickers out.

“I dare to make my own the unforgettable words of John XXIII,” Pope Benedict said tonight. “Carry a caress home to your children tonight… and tell them that it is from the Pope.”


Here is the complete text of Blessed Pope John XXIII’s “Discourse Under the Moon” from October 11, 1962, 50 yerars ago today, in the presence of a young Joseph Ratzinger. Today in Rome an aging Joseph Ratzinger, 50 years later, cited in his own discourse “under the moon” John’s simple, memorable words. The words Benedict cited tonight are in italics…

John XXIII, “Discourse Under the Moon,” October 11, 1962

“Dear sons and daughters,

“I feel your voices! Mine is just one lone voice, but it sums up the voice of the whole world.

“And here, in fact, all the world is represented here tonight. It could even be said that even the moon hastens close tonight, that from above, it might watch this spectacle that not even St Peter’s Basilica, over its four centuries of history, has ever been able to witness.

“We ask for a great day of peace. Yes, of peace! ‘Glory to God, and peace to men of goodwill.’ If I asked you, if I could ask of each one of you: where are you from? The children of Rome, especially represented here, would respond: ah, we are the closest of children, and you’re our bishop. Well, then, sons and daughters of Rome, always remember that you represent ‘Roma, caput mundi‘ [‘Rome, the capital of the world’] which through the design of Providence it has been called to be across the centuries.

“My own person counts for nothing — it’s a brother who speaks to you, become a father by the will of our Lord, but all together, fatherhood and brotherhood and God’s grace, give honor to the impressions of this night, which are always our feelings, which now we express before heaven and earth: faith, hope, love, love of God, love of brother, all aided along the way in the Lord’s holy peace for the work of the good. And so, let us continue to love each other, to look out for each other along the way: to welcome whoever comes close to us, and set aside whatever difficulty it might bring.

“When you head home, find your children. Hug and kiss your children and tell them: ‘This is the hug and kiss of the Pope.’ And when you find them with tears to dry, give them a good word. Give anyone who suffers a word of comfort. Tell them ‘The Pope is with us especially in our times of sadness and bitterness.’ And then, all together, may we always come alive — whether to sing, to breathe, or to cry, but always full of trust in Christ, who helps us and hears us, let us continue along our path.”

–Pope John XXIII
“Moonlight Speech”
Window of the Apostolic Palace
11 October 1962

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