Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Bishop Remi De Roo speaks to a full house at Our Lady of the Lake Church.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Bishop Remi De Roo speaks to a full house at Our Lady of the Lake Church.
Having been installed as bishop so recently, a 38-year-old Remi De Roo was wearing a hodgepodge of borrowed vestments when he stood before Pope John XXIII at the start of the Second Vatican Council.

Thinking that he didn’t look as put together as the many distinguished bishops surrounding him, young De Roo moved toward the back of the group.

Then someone pointed him out as the youngest Canadian bishop, and the pope called him forward. 

“Most of the other bishops didn’t even know who I was yet,” laughed Bishop De Roo, who today is 88. “They were probably all wondering ‘Who is this new kid on the block, and how did he get all these favors?’”

From there, the young bishop was plunged into Vatican II, never dreaming then that he would end up a “Council Father.”

The pope, then 81, would die of cancer very soon. But before he was gone, the leader of the church would change the way Catholics relate to the world by initiating Vatican II.

Bishop De Roo today is one of only two bishops from North America still living who took part in all four sessions from 1962-’65. He spoke last week to a standing-room-only hall at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Lake Oswego, sharing his reflections on Vatican II and his hopes for the future of the Church.

“I am convinced Vatican II was indeed the work of the Holy Spirit,” Bishop De Roo said to the crowd.

This Year of Faith marks 50 years since Vatican II, a rare ecumenical council that reclaimed early Christian emphases for spiritual renewal for the church in the modern world.

Since his retirement in 1999, Bishop De Roo has traveled around the Western hemisphere, lecturing on Vatican II and contemplating the signs of the times in light of Scripture.

Bishop De Roo began with a Vatican II foundation that ministry emerges out of baptism –everyone who is baptized is called to minister. It is important for each person to take responsibility for his or her spirituality, he said. He has chosen the words “To build in love” from Ephesians 4:16 as his motto, which he says emphasizes his conviction that all baptized believers’ vocation is to build up the Body of Christ.

Along those lines, God is relational, not propositional, Bishop De Roo said. The maker is not a severe judge sitting on a throne, but instead has an expansive divine love.
Vatican II also flipped theology upside-down, he said.

Instead of extracting pieces of Scripture to back up theology, theology should be based on Scripture – and everyone should be studying it, not just ordained or scholars.

The role of women in the church was a topic of discussion during the councils that is still at the forefront of discussion in the church today, Bishop De Roo said. He added that defining these roles should not only come from the discernment of bishops and religious, but the whole body of believers.

The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World asserted the fundamental dignity of each human being and declared solidarity with those who suffer. This awakening isn’t happening as quickly in North America as it is in the South, Bishop De Roo said.

“We here are too rich and too comfortable to really understand what that means,” he said. He shared a story about a discussion he had with peasants in Nicaragua, when he asked, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

“They smiled and said, ‘Go home and prove to us democracy really favors the poor, and then we will have hope,’” he said.

Bishop De Roo also shared a story about a conversation with a young man when the elder clergyman was trying to find out why so many young people were falling away from the Church. First off, the young man said, church is boring. Then he added: “Please stop giving us yesterday's answers to questions nobody’s asking anymore.”

“They live in a new world,” Bishop De Roo said, looking out over the audience filled mostly with older adults. “People here have totally different perceptions of reality.”

He encouraged members of the church to reach out to young people. 

“This is not the problem of the youth, but a letter from the Holy Spirit to us,” he said. “We’re the ones who should know better.” Ask them how they feel about the church, he said, and then “we’ll begin to perceive where the Spirit is calling us.”