Msgr. Ray Mullan recalls election of John XXIII; implementing Vatican II

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

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Blessed John XXIII, who will be made a saint April 27, is remembered by many for his warmth, simplicity, social conscience and sense of humor. Pope Francis, who will canonize “the Good Pope,” recalled his predecessor as being holy, patient and a man of courage, especially by calling the Second Vatican Council. Blessed John is pictured in his undated official portrait. (CNS photo / Catholic Press Photo)

Monsignor Ray Mullan was a young theology student in South Africa when Pope Pius XII died Oct. 9, 1958. The weeks that followed the funeral were full of anticipation as the seminarian — and the rest of world — wondered who would succeed him.

“We had our ears glued to the radio waiting for the announcement,” remembers the priest who now serves the diocese as a pastor in Graham and Olney. “Then we heard the cardinals elected a man who was 76. A lot of people thought that was too old, but when they began reading about who he was, they realized the Holy Spirit knew what it was doing.”

The new pope, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was the son of a peasant farmer. His gentle nature earned him the title “Good Pope John.”

One of the most popular popes of the 20th century, Pope John XXIII will be canonized, along with Pope John Paul II, April 27 in St. Peter’s Square. Millions are expected to attend the ceremony.

 Because of his advanced age when elected, analysts expected John XXIII to be a caretaker pope who would maintain the status quo.

In a move that surprised everyone, he called for Ecumenical Council — the first in almost 100 years. When Vatican II convened Oct. 11, 1962, it brought together 2,540 cardinals, patriarchs, and bishops from around the world. Representatives of other Christian denominations were also invited to attend.

Msgr. Mullan was a newly ordained priest in 1962, and he remembers the confusion the announcement generated with parishioners.

“In the beginning, people didn’t have a clue what was going on because they’d never lived through a Council before,” he explains.

A profound impact was the change in liturgy. Churchgoers were called to become active participants in the Mass which now incorporated customs and traditions of the native culture. The permanent diaconate was restored, and there were new roles for the laity.

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Blessed John XXIII is pictured in the Vatican Gardens with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the background in this undated photo. Blessed John, who convened the Second Vatican Council, will be canonized along with Blessed John Paul II April 27 at the Vatican. (CNS photo / Catholic Press Photo)

Some of the changes weren’t welcomed.

“In South Africa, the Catholic newspaper was full of letters of deep complaint about those changes,” Msgr. Mullan recalls. “I think that was based on a lack of information.”

When his own parishioners complained about standing instead of kneeling during portions of the Mass, he addressed their concerns by appealing to their common sense and compassion.

“I explained that when old people kneel down, it’s a struggle for them to get up,” the pastor recounts. “I found that when I instructed people about the changes, they were far more receptive to them.”

Pope John XXIII called the Vatican II Council to reinvigorate the Church, reform its structures and institutions, and explore ways to unite Christians.

The rural pastor calls the popes of his lifetime “good and holy men.” He plans to rise early on April 27 to see two of them canonized on TV.

“We’re extraordinarily blessed in the Church that our popes have been men of wonderful character, personality, and holiness,” he adds.

John-23-Portrait-BUTTON.jpgMonsignor Ray Mullan was a young theology student in South Africa when Pope Pius XII died Oct. 9, 1958. The weeks that followed the funeral were full of anticipation as the seminarian — and the rest of world — wondered who would succeed him.

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