A Moonlight Speech, October 11, 1962 

Second Vatican Council in session, October 1962

Sixty years ago, the first night of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII came out on a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square and gave his impromptu remarks now called “the moonlight speech.” I remember it well, making its way into the world via the news media.

Looking out over the crowd and smiling the Pope said,

“Here all the world is represented. One might even say that the moon rushed here this evening – Look at her high up there – to behold this spectacle.”

You can hear in the video how the people began to laugh and applaud as soon as he mentioned the moon. Among his most famous words:

When you go back home, you will find your children: and give them a hug and say,“This is a hug from the Pope.

What a departure from the formal Papal words of the past! It was time for this kind of Pope and I was among the faithful calling for him. I believe that the Spirit was moving among us to help bring the church into the modern world clarifying and proclaiming its mission of inclusiveness and respect for all people and all faith traditions, embracing those most loved by Jesus, the poor.

Earlier, that first day of the Council had seen a procession of some 2,625 participants representing the Church throughout the world who met to begin deliberating how, as Pope John XXIII said, “to make the human sojourn here on earth less sad.” 

Significant and differing from previous Councils over centuries, this Council had no condemnations of heretics or even doctrines to proclaim. It simply opened the way for the Church to take its place in the modern world and renew its commitment to bring the message of Jesus, a message of inclusiveness and loving service into the world.

The Council took place during 1962-65 and was closed by Pope Paul VI. Pope John XXIII had died during the Council in 1963. Its documents reveal long overdue challenges and guidelines for the Church going forward, all yet to be as fully embraced as intended, not unlike the words of the Gospel.

I am proud to also remember Yves Congar, OP, a French Dominican brother of mine who was and still is widely recognized as one of the most important 20th century theologians. His work on the theology of the church including ecumenism or interreligious dialogue was influential in the deliberations of the Council. I met Yves Congar briefly one day during his visit to Chicago in the 1960’s. Since I didn’t speak French, our exchange was a pleasant, memorable one without a word of theology spoken between us! But maybe there didn’t need to be as I managed to convey my gratitude for his participation in the Second Vatican Council. He died June 22, 1995. A great man I can call my brother.

Shem Center is my response to the mandates found in the Council as well as those found in General Chapter documents of the Dominican Order. We are named by the Second Vatican Council, “The People of God” and take our place with all other people and live in respect and loving service to one another. — or so our marching orders say!

— Joseph Kilikevice, OP 

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