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 Saint Therese of the Child Jesus

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Entries in Vatican Council II (1)

St. John XXIII's famous "moonlight speech" (October 11, 1962) on the night he opened the Second Vatican Council was inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux

"I didn't know what to say.  I turned to my Teresina." - Pope John XXIII

Fifty-five years ago tonight, on the night of October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII  gave the most popular and memorable papal speech of all time, known as his "moonlight speech."  I discovered that, as he said privately that night, this famous off-the-cuff speech, which broke new ground in papal communications, was inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux.  Gianni Gennari broke the story in his November 30, 2013 article "La storia 'vera' del Discorso papale piu celebre di tutti tempi" ("The true story of the most celebrated papal discourse of all times") for Vatican Insider (La stampa).  This story appeared only in Italian, and I discovered it only while researching for the feast of St. John XXIII.  I thank Vatican Insider for this valuable story.

On the night of October 11, 1962, thousands of people, many carrying torches, made their way to St. Peter's Square to celebrate the opening of the historic Second Vatican Council.  Naturally, they hoped the Pope would speak to them.  Cardinal Loris Francesco Capovilla, seated, in red robes as a cardinal, among other ecclesiastics dressed in white.  He is applauding.Cardinal Capovilla. Photo credit: Salvador MirandaPope John's secretary, then-Monsignor and now Cardinal Loris Francesco Capovilla (alive and well at age 98 in 2014!), told Gennari that the Pope was at first reluctant to address the crowd.  No doubt tired after this great day, Pope John said "I do not want to speak!  I've already said everything this morning."  But, seeing how many people were waiting with festive torchlights, Pope John relented, asked for his stole, and came to the window (then already "the Pope's window," and now the place from which the Pope delivers his Angelus message on Sundays).

First, please watch "The speech of a lifetime," a brief two-minute reflection in English on this historic night.


Now, to see this memorable torchlit night in Rome and hear the Pope's words, watch this beautiful two-minute film:  


 His impromptu remarks are called "the moonlight speech" because he said:

Here all the world is represented. One might even say that the moon rushed here this evening – Look at her high up there – to behold this spectacle.

You can hear in the video how the people began to laugh and applaud as soon as he mentioned the moon.  Among his most famous words:

When you go back home, you will find your children: and give them a hug and say,“This is a hug from the Pope.

What a departure from the formal Papal words of the past!  

Pope John's secretary now tells us that these words were inspired directly by St. Therese of Lisieux.  

After speaking, and seeing and hearing the enthusiasm of the people in the square who were captivated by his enchanting words, the Pope came in.  Taking off his stole, he gave it to Monsignor Capovilla and said in these exact words:  "I did not know what to say. I turned to my Teresina [my "little Therese"].  Behold, the help of St. Therese of Lisieux was the origin of this stroke of true imagination, of 'creative' and communicative genius  which, in fact, is considered the most famous and popular papal speech of all time.

[my translation from  "The true story of the most celebrated papal discourse of all times") for Vatican Insider (La stampa)].

How Therese's love for the people and for children shone out in the words she inspired in Pope John!  Read the full text of this short "speech on the moon" at the Web site of "Salt and Light Media."  We thank them and Capuchins Fr. Stefano Penna and Br. Scott Surrency, who translated it.  There you can also read Pope Benedict's words in 2012 on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council when he recalled that night:

"Fifty years ago on this day I too was in this square, gazing towards this window where the good Pope, Blessed Pope John looked out and spoke unforgettable words to us, words that were full of poetry and goodness, words that came from his heart."

Finally, see this April 24, 2014 story from Vatican Radio, which contains a link to a radio show which interviews those who heard this historic speech and some who knew Pope John.  At that radio show you can also hear Pope John's valiant attempt to welcome pilgrims in English. [I am sorry; the linked page has disappeared from the Web). 

May St. Therese, who inspired Pope John with these "unforgettable words," continue to inspire Pope Francis and all of us.

Posted on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 08:45PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan in , , , | Comments1 Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint