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Remembering Cardinal Loris Capovilla & the Saint he served so well...
St. John XXIII’s personal secretary, Cardinal Loris Capovilla died Thursday at the age of 100. It is not possible to speak of him without speaking of Pope John XIII, and to speak of them both is to speak of the Second Vatican Council. Shortly after the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II two years ago, Sebastian Gomes and I had the great privilege of spending a day in Sotto il Monte and visiting with Cardinal Capovilla. I shall never forget our lively conversation that day, as well as the day I spent last year after the October 2014 Synod of Bishops at the Vatican when I returned to Sotto il Monte to film a long interview with the Cardinal who was then 99 and still going strong.
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During our first visit with the Cardinal in 2014, he shared with us his memories of the Second Vatican Council and where the whole idea started. A few weeks after the conclave which elected Cardinal Angelo Roncalli as Pope in 1958, Pope John XXIII called his faithful young secretary, Monsignor Capovilla, to his office in the Apostolic Palace. The Pope told him, “My desk is piling up with problems: with questions, requests, hopes. What is really necessary is a Council.”
“I kept quiet,” said Capovilla.
The Pope responded, “I have asked myself why my secretary, when I confide in him says nothing! But I know why,” he continued, “You think I’m old. You worry! You mean well, but you think I’ll make a mess out of this enormous task; that I don’t have time! Because you think like a commander, like a bank director! But that’s not the way you reason with faith. To receive a great inspiration, and regard it with admiration, and imagine your pleasure in it, is already of great merit. If God allows one to carry on with collaborators, who encourage one to move ahead, even better! And if one begins only with the first preparatory commission, that is of great merit. If one dies, another will come. It is a great honor just to begin!”
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Cardinal Loris continued to tell us story after story about the behind the scenes activities that led to the opening of the historic Council on October 11, 1962. The time spent with this holy, little man has left a deep and lasting impression on me, on Sebastian, and on some friends who were with us.
Capovilla also spoke with much emotion about the death of the ailing pontiff on June 3, 1963, only a few months after the Council began. On that warm, Roman June evening, only a few people were gathered around the Pope’s death bed in the Papal apartment. Capovilla told us: “I said to him, Holy Father there are only a few of us here in this room, but if you were to look out of your window onto the piazza you would see crowds of people. I thought he’d reply in his usual reserved manner, but instead he responded: “naturally that’s the way it should be because the Pope is dying, I love them, they love me.”
Cardinal Capovilla also told us the story of when he was kneeling at the bedside of the dying Pope. The Pope called him over and whispered, "When this is all over, be sure and go see your mother."
To the end, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was a human being, more concerned with his faithfulness than his image, more concerned with those around him than with his own desires.
Pope John’s personal secretary has often highlighted how rather than cultivate nostalgia, Papa Giovanni, the new saint proclaimed by Pope Francis, look towards the future. Capovilla told me last year in our final meeting and interview:
“We are not custodians of a shrine, a reliquary or a museum. As Pope John himself said we are called to cultivate a garden where the seed of the Word, of the Word Incarnate is set in an effort to foster the Advent of a New Pentecost, a new Easter, a new Spring. Not just for our personal happiness but for the happiness of all of humanity. It’s a long journey, we are far from our final destination, one that is not there merely to safeguard but to share with the people of the world”.
St. John XXIII has gone down in history as the ordinary man who astonished the world, by launching the Catholic Church into one of its most momentous epochs by calling the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. With an infectious warmth and vision, John stressed the relevance of the church in a rapidly changing society and made the church’s deepest truths stand out in the modern world. But according to Cardinal Capovilla, his faithful and loyal secretary and friend, to describe Pope John all that one need to say is: “Two eyes and a smile, innocence and goodness”.
Photo credit: Archives in Sotto il Monte
Cardinal Capovilla also had high praise for Pope Francis, who created him a cardinal in February 2014. Speaking to me last year about Francis’ first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Cardinal Capovilla reiterated to us how much the Gospel is the good news. But he also stressed this point to us: “What is this good news? It’s that I am a son of God and God does not abandon me. It’s wonderful to hear Pope Francis say almost every day that God does not reject anyone but accepts everyone”.
Now that Loris is united with his former boss and friend, John, may the two of them intercede for us and help us to keep alive the spirit and messages of the Second Vatican Council, and may they teach us to never forget that if we wish to change the world and the Church, what is required above is a smile, innocence and goodness.
Cardinal Capovilla's funeral will take place on Monday morning, May 30 in the parish church of Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo. He will be laid to rest in the cemetery of the ancient Abbey of Fontanella of Sotto il Monte, close to his priest friend Fr. David Maria Turoldo.
Loris and St. John, pray for us!
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