Vatican II After Fifty Years

Pope John XXIII meets with his newly appointed Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity on January 7, 1961. From left to right: Msgr. Jean-François Arrighi, Cardinal Augustin Bea, Pope John, Msgr. Johannes Willebrands, and Fr. Thomas Stransky, C.S.P.


The Conference, “Vatican II After 50 Years: Dialogue and Catholic Identity,” was held October 11 to 12, 2012, at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. Video from the conference is available on YouTube.


The Second Vatican Council or Vatican II was the most significant and far-reaching event in the twentieth century for the Catholic Church. When Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) announced his intention on 25 January 1959 to convoke a council, he expressed the hope that it would be a means of spiritual renewal, reconciliation of the church to the modern world, and service to the unity of Christians. Ecumenical councils are most solemn occasions for bishops to exercise their teaching authority in communion with the pope. Invited to participate in the opening of Vatican II on 11 October 1962 were all Catholic bishops and more than 150 superiors of religious orders, plus delegated observers and guests from other churches and lay Catholic auditors and guests. They, then, met in working and public sessions over four long autumn periods (1962-1965).  

Pope John XXIII died on 3 June 1963. He was succeeded by Pope Paul VI (1963-78), who advocated that the church (and therefore the council) focus both inwardly and outwardly. His first encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, issued in August 1964 and halfway through the council, took the church as its subject. In it, he introduced the term “dialogue” into the language of the Catholic Church, grounding it theologically in God’s revelation to all humanity, especially in the Incarnation of Christ, and applying it to relationships within the church, including with all Christians, and to relationships with believers outside the church and even to non-believers.

From that point forward, dialogue became a theme of the council, a focal point for the task of reconciliation incumbent upon the church in modern times. Promotion of dialogue became an essential aspect of post-Vatican II life in the Catholic Church, even though it is not always recognized as such. Georgetown University has tried to incorporate dialogue into its curricular offerings and into its general mode of operation. It is fitting and important therefore in this anniversary year of the opening of Vatican II to examine the state of the question and to invite reflection upon it. Thus the theme of this conference is “Dialogue and Catholic Identity.”

Reflections on the significance of Vatican II:

For further reading:

Conference Presentations

Thursday, October 11

Welcome and Introductions
John J. DeGioia
President, Georgetown University

Keynote Lecture: “Dialogue and the Identity of the Council” | VIDEO
John W. O’Malley, S.J.
University Professor, Georgetown University

“Recollections of an Insider” | VIDEO
Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P.
Original staff member, later consultor for the Secretariat for Christian Unity;
Past President, Paulist Fathers & Rector of Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem

Homily: “Mother Church Rejoices”
Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, M.Afr.
Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt and Delegate to the League of Arab States; Past President and Secretary, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

Friday, October 12

“Catholic and Irrevocably Ecumenical” | VIDEO
Catherine Clifford
Vice Dean & Associate Professor, Faculty of Theology
St. Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

“Discovering Catholic Identity through Encounter with People of Other Religions” | VIDEO
Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, M.Afr.
Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt and Delegate to the League of Arab States; Past President and Secretary, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

“Vatican II and the Synagogue’s Continuing Importance to the Church” | VIDEO
Elena Procario-Foley
Brother John G. Driscoll Professor of Jewish-Catholic Studies
Chair, Department of Religious Studies
Iona College, New Rochelle, NY

“The Battle over Gaudium et Spes — Dialogue with the Modern World” | VIDEO
Massimo Faggioli
Department of Theology, University of St. Thomas
St. Paul, Minnesota

Panel: “Georgetown University and the Continuing Implementation of Vatican II” | VIDEO
Carol Lancaster
Dean, School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University

Kevin F. O’Brien, S.J. 
Vice President for Mission and Ministry
Georgetown University

Anthony Clark Arend
Department of Government
Georgetown University

Rabbi Harold S. White
Jewish Chaplain Emeritus
Senior Advisor, Program for Jewish Civilization 
Georgetown University

Jerusha Lamptey
Graduate, Doctoral Program in Theology and Religious Studies
Assistant Professor, Union Theological Seminary
New York, New York

Otto H. Hentz, S.J.,
Department of Theology
Georgetown University

Dennis D. McManus
Visiting Associate Professor, Program for Jewish Civiilzation
Georgetown University

Concluding Remarks
John Borelli
Special Assistant to the President for Interreligious Initiatives
Georgetown University