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
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
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.