Pope Benedict XVI has been reliving the happy days he spent in the Italian countryside with Bishop Fulton Sheen and others in 1965 as they prepared the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the missionary activity of the Church.
“I am truly grateful for this opportunity to see this house in Nemi once again, after 47 years. I have fond memories of it, perhaps the most memorable of the whole Council,” he said to the General Chapter of the Missionaries of the Divine Word who gathered July 9 in the Ad Gentes Center overlooking Lake Nemi.
Speaking without notes, the Pope recalled how he received a “very great gift” when he was invited to join the preparatory group March 29 and April 3, 1965, despite being “a very young theologian of no great importance.”
At the time, Pope Benedict was 37 years-old. As a young priest and academic, he was attending the Second Vatican Council as the chief theological advisor or “peritus” for Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne.
Away from the noise of Rome, said the Pope, it was “a beautiful thing” to be “surrounded by this greenery, having this breath of nature, this fresh air,” as well as “the company of many great theologians” who were entrusted with the “important and beautiful task” of preparing the Council’s decree on mission.
“There was Fulton Sheen who would fascinate us in the evenings with his talks,” he said, remembering some of those present during a week that was, for him, “spiritual enrichment, a great gift.”
Providentially, Pope Benedict’s recollections come in the wake of his June 28 decree which recognized the heroic virtue of Bishop Sheen, declaring him to be “venerable.” At the time of their 1965 meeting in Nemi, the popular U.S. author and television evangelist was the Auxiliary Bishop of New York as well as the National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
Despite some disagreement within the group, which included the renowned Dominican theologian Yves Congar, the Pope said that everyone soon “converged into the one dynamic of the need to bring the light of the word of God, the light of God’s love to the world and give a new joy to this proclamation.”
The result was “Ad Gentes” (To the Nations), the Council’s Decree on the mission activity of the Church, which was passed almost unanimously by the Council Fathers on December 7, 1965.
“Thus,” said Pope Benedict, “these days gave birth to a good and beautiful decree” which was fueled by the classical idea of “bonum diffusivum sui” or “good has the inherent need to communicate, to give of itself, it cannot remain self-contained.”
After his remarks the Pope imparted his apostolic blessing and then made the 20-minute car ride back to his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, only six miles away from the village of Nemi.