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Mercywords: an E-Journal is published online four (4) times per year: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.
From the Editor
Carol Rittner RSM
Keeping the Spirit of Vatican II Alive
Deirdre Mullan RSM
Keeping the Faith
Aline Paris RSM
Keeping Alive the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of Vatican II
Philomena Bowers RSM
“The Spirit of the Lord...”
Dina Altamiranda RSM
A Life-giving Tapestry
Mary Roch Rocklage RSM
Janette Gray RSMOpening%20Essay%20March%202011.htmlEssay%202%20March%202011.htmlEssay%203%20March%202011.htmlEssay%204%20March%202011.htmlEssay%205%20March%202011.htmlEssay%206%20March%202011.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0shapeimage_3_link_1shapeimage_3_link_2shapeimage_3_link_3shapeimage_3_link_4shapeimage_3_link_5shapeimage_3_link_6
Keeping the Spirit of Vatican II Alive
I was about ten years old when Vatican II began in 1963. At the time, I vaguely remember my mother talking about a very important meeting happening in Rome between the world’s bishops and the pope. I do not think I heard another word about that meeting until after I entered the Sisters of Mercy Novitiate in Ireland in the early 1980s. By that time, I was a trained teacher, but no one in my city of Derry in the north of Ireland spoke much about any Vatican Council when I was in high school or college. And, for many years, I did not think about Vatican II, even though after leaving that Mercy novitiate as a very young Sister I taught religious studies for many years in a large Mercy high school for girls in Derry.
But in the last decade, particularly after my move to New York City and the office of Mercy Global Concern at the United Nations, I began to pay attention to some of the documents that came out of that ‘very important meeting’ some fifty years ago, and to subsequent documents that were inspired by Vatican II.
What documents am I talking about? Well, for starters, documents like Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church) and Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions), Populorum Progressio (Encyclical on the Development of Peoples), and Octogesima Adveniens (A Call to Action). I believe these, and other social justice documents, were inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit of God during Vatican Council II, and by the energy and insights of the bishops who participated in Vatican II. These documents, and others that give attention to “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,” as “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” puts it, are the Church’s best kept secret. When I got to the UN and the office of Mercy Global Concern, I began to pay attention to those writings, focusing on the correlation between them and some United Nations documents that began to cross my desk day after day, week after week, and month after month.
Based on my own experience as a Roman Catholic Christian and as a Sister of Mercy, I think it is fair to say that far too many of us Catholics – nuns included – are, I would say, unfamiliar with the basic content of Catholic Social Teaching. Moreover, many of us – religious, clergy, and laity at all levels – do not adequately understand that the social mission of the Church is an essential part of our Catholic Christian faith. As the American Catholic bishops wrote in 1993, “The central message is simple: our faith is profoundly social. We cannot be called truly ‘Catholic’ unless we hear and heed the call to serve those in need and work for justice and peace.”1
Since coming to the Mercy office at the United Nations in New York, I have tried to take to heart what Pope Paul VI wrote in his 1971 encyclical, Octogesima Adveniens (“A Call to Action”):
Let every person examine themselves, to see what they have done up to now, and what they ought to do. It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustice and utter prophetic denunciations; these words lack real weight unless they are accompanied by effective action.
I try to live in the spirit of Vatican II by keeping those words in mind, by reminding myself that denunciations are not enough. What also is needed is effective action that challenges unjust systems. Those actions can be as simple as writing a letter to a company engaged in unethical labor practices (e.g., discriminatory hiring practices), or writing to a politician whose rhetoric is sexist, racist, homophobic, or demeaning of others’ religious beliefs and practices, or challenging an ecclesiastical official who is ‘out of touch’ with the ordinary people in the pew, particularly when it comes to the sex abuse scandals around the world.
To sustain the vision and spirit of Vatican II, that very important meeting in Rome my mother told me about years ago, I read good theology, reflect on and pray our Sacred Scriptures, and I use our “best kept secret,” Catholic Social Teaching, to inspire and inform my work in the office of Mercy Global Concern at the United Nations in New York.
Deirdre Mullan RSM (Ireland/USA) is the Director of Mercy Global Concern at the United Nations in New York. She is also a teacher, lecturer, and writer, and she is a member of the Editorial Board of Mercywords, an E-Journal.
  1. 1.Communities of Salt and Light, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1993.
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