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In September 1962, shortly before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII learned that he had inoperable cancer. Throughout the first session of the council, he knew that his life was drawing to a close.
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At the end of the first session of the Second Vatican Council, the council fathers went home with a mixture of exhilaration and frustration. The bishops had come to understand their authority and responsibility for helping the Church to define itself and its mission to the modern world.
In last week's article, I referred to Pope Benedict's analysis that some people have presented the Second Vatican Council as a break with the Church's past. He maintains that the council was a council of reform in continuity with the tradition.
In his memoirs, Joseph Ratzinger, a young theologian advising Cardinal Josef Frings at the Second Vatican Council and who is today Pope Benedict XVI, recalled the atmosphere in Germany when he returned home after each of the four sessions of the council: