Jesuit historian Oliver Rafferty reflects on the life and work of Cardinal Bea. This is an excerpt taken from the British Province website, there is a link at the end of the reflection to the whole article
The proposal to set up a Vatican department to advance Christian unity had first been suggested by the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV in May 1959, and the suggestion was taken up by the German archbishop Lorenz Jäger of Paderborn on the basis of a paper that Bea had prepared. Not everyone welcomed Bea’s appointment as head of that department; some reservation was expressed because he had been so closely associated with the ‘conservative’ Pius XII. However, he was to become equally influential in the papacy of Pope John XXIII.
The first extended meeting between Bea and Pope John XXIII had taken place on 9 January 1959; by November of that year, Bea had been made a cardinal. Fr Janssens had once more objected to this appointment, largely for the same reasons he offered against the elevation in 1953. This time, however, Cardinal Domenico Tardini of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State told the General that there was a ‘categorical order’ from the pope for Bea’s proposed dignity. On 20 April 1963, just two months before his death, Pope John XXIII told Dr Vittorino Veronese, the Director General of UNESCO: ‘Imagine what a grace the Lord has given in making me discover Cardinal Bea’. Bea himself remarked that he and Pope John ‘understood each other perfectly’.
It was Bea who first suggested that non-Catholic observers should be invited to the Second Vatican Council: in the end 60 observers would attend. One of the leading American Protestant participants, Robert McAfee Brown, said that Bea’s spirit ‘endeared him to the Protestant world’. Given his position, Bea was the principle architect of the Decree on Ecumenism. His remit, however, went well beyond this. It was he who was charged with drawing up the declaration on the Jews, which eventually evolved into the Decree Nostra aetate on the relationship between Catholicism and non-Christian religions as a whole.
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