Pope John Paul II's command of English was "superb," Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins, right, recalled.
Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins, left, witnessed the Second Vatican Council as assistant to Bishop Floyd L. Begin in 1963.
Catholic Voice file photos
Two popes and one diocese
John S. Cummins
What does a saint drink?
Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins' time as a priest let him touch the two new saint-popes.
Though Bishop Cummins never met Pope John XXIII, he witnessed the Second Vatican Council as assistant to Bishop Floyd L. Begin from October through December 1963. Pope John called the historic Vatican Council, with the first session opening Oct. 11, 1962. Sadly, he died on June 3, 1963, and Pope Paul VI saw the Council to completion.
Bishop Cummins met Pope John Paul II on several occasions, including four "ad limina" visits to The Vatican in 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998.
"I met him for the first time in Mexico in 1978," Bishop Cummins recalled: In Guam in 1979, during the Pope's US visit in 1987, in the Philippines in 1995 and at a synod in 1999.
"He was a strongly built man. He wasn't that tall," Bishop Cummins said April 14, "He was broad-shouldered and his hands looked as though he had done hard work."
John Paul II's command of English was "superb." Bishop Cummins said.
During their meeting in Guam, Bishop Cummins said, the pope drank wine during dinner. But before dinner, when he visited with several of the bishops for drinks, for himself Pope John Paul said, "No whiskey; orange juice."
— Staff report
An Oakland physician some months ago, a member of a family long connected to the Croatian Parish of the Nativity in San Francisco, remarked in conversation, "The pastor changed the hours of Sunday Mass without consulting any of us!" His exasperation I contend is traceable to Pope John XXIII and the calling of the Second Vatican Council.
The beloved pope, who incidentally decreed the establishment of the Diocese of Oakland, was an unknown. An announcement of his election in 1958 came on the public address system during a morning class at Bishop O'Dowd High School, where I was teaching. Unfamiliar too would be the news of Karol Wojtyla's election, the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years. The choice of the Polish pontiff was announced as Father Jim Keeley and I flew home from Rome in 1978, after the burial of Pope John Paul I.
John XXIII quickly endeared himself by his warmth, his simplicity and his humanness. Underneath those qualities a singular sagacity would be discovered. His Council would be one of polishing and updating. In his own words, "The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another."
Refreshing the tradition would be accompanied by his vision of the urgency of Christian unity throughout the world. Additionally his impatience with whom he called "the prophets of doom."
"In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin," fueled a desired optimism.
A half century after the close of that gathering at St. Peter's in Rome, my perception is that Council teachings are embedded in our people. My physician's comment is not reflective. It is by now intuitive. It arises from the embrace of Council teachings.
I would list three of those in particular. The first is the style of prayer since the Council days, secondly, the sense of co-responsibility of all of us in and for the community of the church, and lastly, the universal call of all Christians for service to the church and to the world.
In the Diocese of Oakland the unambiguous acceptance of Council deliberations by our Bishop Floyd Begin aided the assimilation.
The first decision of the Second Vatican Council was the document on liturgy. Pope Paul VI issued the immense change for the world church in one year's time. My recollection is that the use of the vernacular was joyously received, even emotionally so, but it was neither automatic nor immediate. Major credit went to our cathedral parish of St. Francis de Sales, which became a prime teacher in showing how the new liturgy could move the mind and heart through word and music carefully prepared.
Cathedral liturgy was one of the many fruitful developments that reached throughout the diocese and even beyond, graphic testimony to the liturgical seriousness of both bishop and diocese.
The restoration of Scripture to its proper place of importance enriched the Sunday and even the daily celebration. It also created high expectations with regard to homilies, as sociologist Father Andrew Greeley often commented.
Now the priest celebrant was surrounded with the ministries of not just acolyte but lector and later extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, an unforeseen benefit of whom would be enlarged service of the sick in homes and hospitals.
Secondly, there would be further and parallel areas of participation by the wide community. An easy understanding of co-responsibility arose from the Council's determination of the church as "the people of God."
By baptism all would receive the benefit of membership but also the responsibility for the life and health of the church. A bishop would form a council of priests to help with administration of the diocese. Pastors would likewise have pastoral councils in their parishes. Bishop Begin found enthusiasm on the one hand but resistance, discomfort, postponement to his twice declaring a deadline for each parish in the diocese to have a council established.
The sense of consultation enlarged to boards of various dimensions but especially the institution of the diocesan pastoral council. This institution, created by the deliberations of 400 parish delegates, produced fruitful directions and discoveries.
A particular remembrance for me was the dimension of justice residing in the work of our St. Vincent de Paul Society in its rehabilitation of former prisoners, our hospitals in their promotion of universal health insurance, our inner-city schools and their outreach to the disadvantaged. In the Diocese of Oakland the blessing of so many gifted "in the human sciences," as the Council called them, found fertile opportunity in the colleges and seminaries and particularly the University of California that existed in the diocese.
A consequence of community participation became evident in the demand for the program of RENEW in the parishes, often led by people nurtured in Cursillo and charismatic movements, and the delving into the heritage of Catholic modes of spirituality.
Again, the style of authority in the post-Council years had its distinctive nature. Simple authority and obedience patterns needed refinement. The metaphor "sheep and shepherd" suggested some qualification. Dialogue before decision became an expectation.
Lastly, the gropings through the century of the church's relations beyond itself were crystallized at the Council. John XXIII's instinct for Christian unity took on prominence, reiterated even more strongly by Pope John Paul II. Our bishop had established a rapid pace in relations both with Christian churches in the area and also in reporting the Council developments at Temple Sinai in Oakland. His most significant ecumenical contribution lay in gaining Vatican approval for Catholic participation with Protestant schools of higher learning in the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
Pope John Paul II, personable and dramatic, gathered the religions of the world in Assisi, to the chagrin of some of his colleagues.
In another dimension, we watched Pope John Paul's address to the United Nations. Many of us participated in the gathering of 75,000 at Candlestick Park. We were all proud of the spectacle in Warsaw on Pentecost in 1979. One million people stood in Victory Square for Mass. A picture described the forceful pontiff in contrast with the Communist authorities "without any more substance than cardboard cutouts."
In the diocese, Bishop Begin had established a social justice commission. He funded an ecumenical organization in the 1960s, the Eastbay Conference on Religion and Race. Catholic Charities reached to immigrants and refugees, even beyond the confines of the two counties. Our people displayed a broad swath of initiatives in response to concrete needs, in so many cases undertaken by women religious.
The experience of those who have gone before us and the legacy they have transmitted have attuned us well to the phrasing and excitement of our Pope Francis. His apostolic exhortation with emphasis on liturgy and the homily, on our attitude to an economy that serves the whole human family, to structures of what he identifies as "collegial" relationships to strengthen the life and service of the Church, and all in the name of evangelization, reach to hearts and minds made receptive.
(John S. Cummins is bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Oakland; serving as ordinary from 1977-2003.)
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