The following account of the opening of the Second Vatican Council was prepared by Dr. J. D. Douglas:

Rain fell steadily on several hundred persons—mostly women in black—who had gathered by 7 a.m. in St. Peter’s Square for the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope John XXIII was scheduled to meet conciliar fathers in the great Hall of Benedictions at 7:30 to invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it was 9:55 before he ascended the papal throne in St. Peter’s. Five minutes later he spoke his first words clearly heard throughout the packed basilica:

“Protector noster aspice Deus.”

Mass was celebrated by the bearded Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, French-born dean of the College of Cardinals. As he pronounced the words of consecration, Swiss guards bowed the knee and lowered their arms. Following the mass, cardinals and patriarchs came to make obeisance to the Pope individually. Then, representing their kind and to avoid protracting the proceedings, came two archbishops, two bishops, two abbots, and two superiors general.

By noon the rain had given way to strong sunshine and the square was half filled as council proceedings were relayed in Latin by loudspeaker. The first session, a service of worship, lasted until 1:15. Cried the crowd, “Viva il Papa.”

One leading American evangelical observed, “New Delhi was peanuts to this.”

The Pope’s address at the opening session voiced the hope that the council might pave the way toward the “unity of mankind.”

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the entire Christian family has not yet fully attained … unity in truth.

“The Catholic church, therefore, considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer ...

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