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from issue no. 09 - 2007


Silva Henríquez: memories of the Council and the Conclave

The speech of the Cardinal Secretary of State on the day devoted to the Archbishop of Santiago of Chile by the Pontifical Salesian University

by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez

Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez

I met Archbishop Raúl Silva Henríquez for the first time on 18 March 1962, at the Institute of the Sacred Heart in Via Marsala 42, when he had come to Rome for his promotion to the cardinalate by Pope John XXIII. I was a student in the faculty of Canon Law of the then Pontifical Salesian Athenaeum, with Don Alfonso Stickler as rector, and since I was already interested in ceremonies, I was master of ceremonies for his cardinalate and above all for the famous courtesy visits. The cardinal recounts in his memoirs – and I thank Doctor Ascanio Cavallo who edited them, I truly read them with pleasure! – his elevation to the cardinalate. I am sorry that I am not in the photos published in these memoirs, because I was also there along with the Senior Rector Don Renato Ziggiotti and the others when the famous papal letter was read: it was a thrilling moment for us Salesians, we were very happy that the Archbishop of Santiago del Cile, whom we had heard spoken about a lot, was to become cardinal.
So, my first meeting with Silva Henríquez took place on the occasion of his elevation to the cardinalate. Then I accompanied him at the start of Vatican Council II and listened to his lively impressions and stories during all the sessions. He lived in Via Marsala, in the red damasked apartment that had been that of Cardinal Giovanni Cagliero, the first Salesian cardinal. He also had a little chapel there. So when he returned from the meetings, from the sessions, from the general congregations of the Council we tried to extract some news from him and he told us about developments.
I have said that I read with pleasure the memoirs and I remember, for example from the second volume, as well as the report of the Consistory for the creation of the new cardinals, the story of the opening of the Council. I have a personal memory in this regard. Along with a certain Don Zappino, a very young Salesian cleric, a student of philosophy, we went to Saint Peter’s on the day of the opening with the intention of entering the Council hall. And we managed it through a ruse. Perhaps I am giving away a secret and so at the next Council it will no longer be possible. To get into the hall we put ourselves at the disposition of the prelates, older bishops and cardinals who had difficulty walking: we took them by the arm and accompanied them, as is now the way with the old and the handicapped who have the right in Italy to an accompanier. So they let us in, even though we had no right. At a certain point there was a hiatus because the first authentic documents sub secreto pontificio had to be distributed to all the Council Fathers and the distribution had not been organized. I immediately realized, with the promptness of a fairly intelligent Piedmontese youth, the reason for the hiatus and asked Vacchetti – the engineer who designed the Council hall (many remember that beautiful wooden hall) –: «Do you need someone to distribute the texts?» «Yes», the engineer answered. Then I called ten other students and we began to distribute the documents to all the Fathers. We also came to Don Ziggiotti and Don Stickler. Don Ziggiotti said to me: «But what are you doing here? It’s not that you’re a Council Father?». «I’ve been given the job of distributing the documents», I answered. Thus we had a preview of the documents sub secreto pontificio.
Some people know I then had special permission to participate in the debate on the Dignitatis humanae declaration, which interested me very much because I was studying the topic of religious tolerance and had done my thesis for a Licenciate in Theology at Turin on religious tolerance and religious freedom. So I followed that opening, that development in itinere towards religious freedom and I also met Cardinal Silva Henríquez there at the Council center. He also mentions the two famous bars, I don’t know if you remember, one was called Bar Jona and the other Bar Abba: and to find out the news we went to those two Council refectories, where everything was gratis as well. This was the very focal point of the discussions, the reactions, to some speech maybe, to a vote or to the postponement of a vote and that was also a very interesting experience.
Cardinal Silva Henríquez described the Council, as we have heard many times (there is indeed a chapter in the memoirs entitled such), the Spring of the Church.
Then in the memoirs there is the story of the Conclave for the election of Paul VI. It is very interesting because he found himself sitting right in front of Paul VI during the voting, and he told us that Paul VI then invited him to sit in front of him also at his first meal as Pope, because one sees that he had given him courage during the voting, indeed had assisted him.
In the third volume of the memoirs I found a very detailed recollection in line with the confidences that the cardinal himself had made to us, at the Pontifical Salesian University, of the two conclaves for the election of John Paul I and John Paul II. We had already transferred to the new Salesian University, that is to the present site (but not to this very beautiful hall of the new library that I’m admiring for the first time). When we asked him how the election of John Paul I of 1978 was reached at the first conclave, he made the following recollection. I remember it very well: he told us that the Latin American cardinals – and here he was perhaps referring to the meetings and the pourparler that took place outside the conclave and therefore he wasn’t breaking the secret – had met and three questions were posed. The first was: whether to elect an Italian or a non-Italian cardinal as Pope? And the answer was to elect an Italian, thinking that it was the right thing to do at that historical moment. The second question was: an Italian of the Roman Curia or an Italian diocesan bishop? And the answer was: an Italian diocesan bishop, because the cardinals of the Curia have many resources, I don’t mean for supporting themselves, but for working, they already have a mission for the universal Church and therefore it’s better to elect a diocesan. The third question was: and among the Italian diocesan bishops, which one? At this point Silva Henríquez mentioned Cardinal Albino Luciani, spoke about the cardinal’s pastoral disposition, ideal for carrying ahead the implementation of the Council, and everyone came to agree on a very positive judgment of Cardinal Luciani and because of that they decided to vote for him. They made contact with the other cardinals and, I’d say quickly enough, Pope Luciani was elected with the name of John Paul I. A very brief pontificate, like a meteor, that nevertheless served to give a change of direction to the mission of the supreme pontiff as to that of the Church that we all remember well.
I remember too, and I reach the conclusion, two fine pages in the third volume of memoirs (pp. 255-256) where he describes his participation in the working-out of the new Code of Canon Law. They are two very meaningful pages written by one of the great pastors of the Church, Cardinal Silva Henríquez, who also had a degree in Civil Law, Jurisprudence, and therefore had juridical training. In his four years of Theology at the Crocetta he had also studied Canon Law with two great teachers, Don Fogliasso and Don Stickler, and recalled that when he went for the first time to Turin as cardinal he went to see the places where he’d studied, to greet his old teachers.
A moment during the day commemorating Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez. From the right: Don Mario Toso, Rector of the PSU; Don Pascual Chávez Villanueva, Senior Rector of the Salesians; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State; Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa; Monsignor Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Concepción; Pablo Cabrera Gaete, Ambassador of Chile to the Holy See; Doctor Ascanio Cavallo, editor of the <I>Memorias del cardenal Raúl Silva Henríquez</I>

A moment during the day commemorating Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez. From the right: Don Mario Toso, Rector of the PSU; Don Pascual Chávez Villanueva, Senior Rector of the Salesians; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State; Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa; Monsignor Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Concepción; Pablo Cabrera Gaete, Ambassador of Chile to the Holy See; Doctor Ascanio Cavallo, editor of the Memorias del cardenal Raúl Silva Henríquez

Silva Henríquez gives a very beautiful description of that work on the new Code. At the beginning of the Council he had been nominated member of the central Commission of the Council, and, in spite of the criticism he suffered for certain decisions, such as the agrarian reform whereby he ceded land of the diocese (John XXIII said to him “hágala”, “make” this reform, urging him not to be afraid and guaranteeing him his support), John XXIII then nominated him member of that great Commission, along with cardinals and experts, for the working-out of the new Code of Latin Canon Law and he was very positive and enthusiastic about the experience. Some people here might not be of the same opinion, I hope not... but Silva Henríquez speaks very well of it. And we followed, I would say closely, that work of his. Because the cardinal, every time he was called to Rome by the central bodies of the Holy See for some study meeting, arrived two or three days beforehand, and convened a mini-commission to study the topics that would be on the agenda for discussion among the cardinals. For the Code of Canon Law, but also for other delicate problems that I won’t mention here – because they are still perhaps covered by the papal secret (but I’m not sure everyone keeps the secret: again in recent days articles have appeared in newspapers on the new nominations, etc; there are always leaks) – to get help, I said, the cardinal assembled a mini-commission of three “special musketeers”. I name them in alphabetical order: Don Sabino Ardito, Don Tarcisio Bertone and the late lamented Don Pier Giorgio Marcuzzi, of whom we have a grateful memory. We met together on the Via Aurelia in an institute of nuns who lodged the cardinal when he was in Rome. In the room where we worked there was the crucifix naturally, then there were books, the outlines of the Code and some observations he had brought from Chile. And then we set ourselves to discuss around an ever-present bottle of Cardenal Mendoza, and the level of the brandy went down during the discussion...
I want to conclude by taking a stand in favor of Canon Law and the Faculty of Canon Law. I have worked a lot in that faculty, even if during the first years in which I was here I taught Ethics and Social Ethics. Some days ago, perhaps those who read L’Osservatore Romano will know of it, I gave a speech on “Charity and Politics, Charity and Justice”, and to do so I confess that I went back to the notes of a book that I published in 1968, the first years in which I taught Moral Theology, when we were in post-Council fervor with most interesting discussions on those topics. It is certainly true that in the immediate post-Council period there was a wealth of thinking and challenge that could only enhance.
But – I was saying – I want to take a stand in defense of the Law. And I do so in the words with which Cardinal Silva Henríquez concludes the pages, where he recalls his participation in the working-out of the new Code of Canon Law: «Creo que estos solos datos justifican el honor que siento por haber participado en una obra tan notable. Los años espero no harán más que confirmar esta auténtica bendición». You see the judgment he makes on the work! So you, too, should appreciate Canon Law, the Law of the Church. Value it! A thousand thanks.
Again a very dear and most cordial memory of our Cardinal Silva Henríquez and sincere congratulations for this commemoration. Thank you.

(Text assembled by Gianni Cardinale)

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