Conflict and discord defined Europe during the time period following World War II. Many people were struggling to survive and the dynamics of public interactions and relations were disjointed—no one was in unison. The Church recognized this problem of disunion not just within secular society, but also within the Christian faiths. Pope John XXIII sought out to mend these conflicts both in Christianity and in society. Thus, he convoked a new council that he would later name, the Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et spes was issued at the closing of the council and addressed the problems currently dividing society; it stressed a need for a family structure with a primary concern for service, both within Christianity and among the entire human race.
In 1945, after World War II ended, Europe was left in a state of turmoil and disunity. The last five years had been ones of mass destruction and sadistic evils; whole countries were demolished environmentally, economically and spiritually while whole populations of people were being segregated, tortured and killed. The war tactics and weaponry utilized destroyed the land and architecture, the cost of the war indebted most of Europe and the overall morale of its citizens was depressed. Even worse than all of this devastation was Germany’s forfeit of civilized behavior, demonstrated by its citizens’ forgoing the human rights of Hitler’s targets. Chiefly Jews, but also gypsies, homosexuals and mentally and physically handicapped people, were forced into concentration camps, denied basic human needs and mass murdered. This illustration of social injustice created division and discord throughout Europe.1 Pius XII, the pope during the Holocaust, refrained from speaking out and taking action against what was happening; “The Vatican had ‘no wish to give publicity to the issue.’”2 Thus there was unfortunately no institutional refute of the happening genocide. However, bishops from Germany, Croatia and France took it upon themselves to denounce the actions of the Holocaust within their dioceses, despite the pope’s idleness in the matter.3 All the while, Pope Pius was busy joining the Catholic Church in union with fellow Christian sects, a process that occurred gradually throughout the twentieth century. However when World War II ended, the Vatican ironically pushed for convictions of war crimes. Though very near to the end of his life, Pius XII took “strong steps to counter racism and rethink Christian-Jewish relations.”4 After Pope Pius’ death Pope John XXIII came to reign, and called for an ecumenical council in order to address the current issues. “Led by a new pope… and compelled by the memory of the Holocaust, the Catholic church reversed its 2,000-year tradition of anti-Semitism during the Second Vatican Council in 1965.”5 Pope Paul VI attended to the problems of society in his work, Gaudium et spes, beginning the document with inspiring words encouraging the ideals of community; he wrote, “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, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”6 World leaders, including prominent Church figures assumed the responsibility of rebuilding and redeveloping civilizations and helping the affected civilians recover. Pope John XXIII assumed his position of prestige in 1958, over ten years after the Second World War ceased. European societies and economies were still under reconstruction and feelings of anti-Semitism prevailed.7 Millions of people continued to struggle—homeless, hungry and lost with no direction. According to Brady, “There is a dramatic link between the lives of people—all people, but especially the poor and suffering—with the lives of those who confess to be Christian.”8 The wounds of the Jewish community were so deep that they were especially suffering, trying to recover from the trauma and reestablish their lives...
Bibliography: Brady, Bernard, V. Essential Catholic Social Thought. New York: Orbis Books, 2008.
Keldany, Herbert. The ABC of the Vatican Council. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1962.
Knight, Kevin. “Vatican Council.” New Advent. 2009. Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15303a.htm/. Web.
Komonchak, Joseph A. ed. History of Vatican II. Vol. I, Announcing and Preparing Vatican Council II Toward a new Era in Catholicism. New York: Belgium: Leuven: Peeters, 1995.
Lowe, Keith. Savage Continent: Europe in the aftermath of World War II. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.
Phayer, Michael. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.
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