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"Can the church become more people friendly?"

Ignatius Desmond Sullivan (Oxford, England)


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Personal Note


I must have been a very na´ve young priest in 1962. For after ten years a missionary in the tropical forests of West Africa, I went to Rome for the Vatican Council. My bishop, of course, was not much better! He had just been made a bishop and was very new to the task. Rome in October 1962 was intoxicating. The place was full of illuminations, with clergy from all over the world: ancient Rome jostled with the modern world unseen by me since 1952.


The most touching was my saying Mass in St Peter's. In the sacristry the M.C. asked me would I like to say mass at the "Altar of the Confession". It seemed that the bishop who had booked it had slept in!


The altar is in the deepest recesses of the crypt of the Basilica at the core of St Peter's where St Peter was martyred.


For once in my life I felt a nearness to Our Lord and Peter - for on this pinpoint of Revelation was built the whole mighty edifice of the Basilica, the Vatican, the church and all the pomp and activities going on above ground at that moment.


It was later to come home to me when I stood by the headwaters of the Jordan in the Holy Land at Caesarea Phillippi where Jesus had said those words. And for some obscure reason I remembered the secret code, known only to seamen: when a ship is sinking the captain says "Call the carpenter to the captain on the bridge." Do old seamen still remember Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat on lake Galilee?


Is pope John Paul II acting alone and challenging the church to a radical renewal? In recent encyclicals he has asked Catholic and Protestant theologians to examine the Office of Peter as it is at present exercised on how to make it acceptable to today's Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox believers. Much to the horror of some Cardinals he has asked the Jews for forgiveness for the sins committed by the church against the Jews. He has prayed in mosques. He has expressed his sorrow for the atrocities committed by the Crusaders against Byzantium. He has called together the leaders of other Faith and religions to prayer together in Assisi. All of this seems to be contrary to some recent emissions from the Holy Office.


Does the present Pope feel that he must soon use his authority to call on the Carpenter to come to the bridge to take the church back to the gospel.