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Thomas Cahill, "Pope John XXIII"

"To Be Read" Column

September 2, 2002

"In the daily exercise of our pastoral ministry -- and much to our sorrow -- we must sometimes listen to those who, consumed with zeal, have scant judgment or balance," said John XXIII to the bishops of the world assembled in Saint Peter's Basilica as he opened the precedent-shattering Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II) in 1962. "To such ones the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruin. They claim that this age is far worse than previous ages, and they rant on as if they had learned nothing at all from history-and yet, history is the great Teacher of Life. . . . We feel bound to disagree with these prophets of doom who are forever forecasting calamity -- as though the world's end were imminent. Today, rather, Providence is guiding us toward a new order of human relationships, which, thanks to human effort and yet far surpassing human hopes, will bring us to the realization of still higher and undreamed of expectations." (xiii)
This is the opening paragraph of Thomas Cahill's moving little book on John XXIII. How optimistic and ironic these words of the former Pope sound to us today, when the words "new order" in the mouths of world leaders have the power to terrify and enrage large segments of the human family. "A new order of human relationships": how can this mean anything other than empire, hegemony, global power? Perhaps only in the mouth of a saint can the phrase point to "higher and undreamed of expectations."

After reading Cahill's Pope John XXIII, it is hard not to think of John XXIII as a saint. Readers of Cahill's Hinges of History Series