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Riley's Ramblings - The Second Vatican Council: Part II
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September 18, 2012

Pope John XXIII announced on January 25, 1959 that he was going to convene an ecumenical council. 

What was the world like in 1959?
The Second World War had ended in 1945, just fourteen years earlier, and much of Europe and Japan were still rebuilding from the war’s devastation. Over seventy-five million people died in that war making it the deadliest conflict in the history of the world. It witnessed humanity at it most depraved state as human beings under the direction of a deranged tyrant carried out an unprecedented genocide against non-combatants. The Korean conflict had just ended with another loss of over two million people.  American involvement in Vietnam was just beginning.

One of the end results of World War II was the spread of communism throughout Eastern Europe and in parts of Asia with some in-roads into the western hemisphere. The fear and hatred of communism dominated the psyches of most Westerners and was a hallmark of the policies of the United States. This was the era of the Cold War with its accompanying arms race. The United States felt it was its duty to intervene in areas of the Americas in which there was any sense that communism was an influence. Oppressive military governments received strong support from the U.S in the hopes that they would prevent communism from taking root. The whole world lived in constant fear of a nuclear war which continued to feed the arms race with bigger and more deadly weapons developed by each side of the race. The Vatican Council was only three days into its first session when the Cuban arms embargo brought Russia and the United States to the brink of nuclear conflict.

The early baby boomers, the over seventy-eight million people born between 1946 and 1954 were becoming teenagers. Their sheer number would have a profound impact throughout the twentieth century and beyond. It is estimated that this year (2012) a person turns 60 every 7 seconds!

The United States experienced a financial boom in the years after the war when the country moved from a war-time to a peace-time economy. The GI Bill allowed thousands of men returning from the war to go to college and professional schools, an education few of them would have been able to afford with this government grant.

Throughout the world, the cry for freedom was heard in the fifties and into the sixties as colonialism was under attack. The great European empires created by the English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese imperialism throughout the Third World were collapsing, sometimes peacefully and sometimes in armed conflict and revolt. That same emerging sense of freedom which led Africans, Asians and the peoples of Central and South America to seek their freedom and self-determination was also manifested in the United States in the emerging civil rights movement and that of women’s liberation.

The world in which the Council began was a world teetering on the brink of nuclear annihilation and a world in which there was great wealth and grinding poverty. It was a world in which human freedom was extolled which millions suffered under totalitarian ideologies and regimes and others under oppressive military and economic policies. But Pope John XXII saw a season of hope on the horizon and hoped that his council would help to usher it in.