Forty years ago, on October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council, which he himself had announced barely two years earlier.

This great 20th century Pope saw "the immense gravity and amplitude that await the Church as in the most tragic periods of its history." This notwithstanding, he never gave any room to the prophets of doom; on the contrary he believed that Providence is leading humanity "to a new order of human relations which by our own efforts and even beyond our expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God`s superior and inscrutable designs".

`His` was not to be a Council of defiance and opposition to the world and the other Christian Churches, but a source of pastoral renewal and of reconciliation between Christians and with the wider world. In the Pope`s words, it was a time for an updating (aggiornamento) of the Church, an expression which to suspiciously conservative ears sounded dangerously Modernistic.

John XXIII reminded the Church that her duty "is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if it were concerned only with antiquity, but also to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us."

To commemorate this auspicious even, DISCERN, the Institute for Research on the Signs of the Times, has invited Professor Nicholas Lash to give the Benjamin Tonna Lecture on "Vatican II: of happy memory... and hope" at the Radisson SAS Hotel, St Julian`s, on Monday, April 29, at 7 p.m.

Professor Lash, Norris-Hulse Professor Emeritus of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, England, earned his doctorate there in 1972, the second of four graduate degrees he holds from Cambridge. He has been a Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, from 1988 through 2001 when he assumed Emeritus status.

Professor Lash has lectured in various countries and has taught for extended stints at such revered institutions as the Universities of Notre Dame, San Francisco, and Virginia, Boston College and Duke University. He has provided editorial services for Concilium, Ex Auditu, Modern Theology and Religious Studies. His theological expertise has enhanced the Roman Catholic Theological Commission for England and Wales (1968-1975). He served as president of the committee of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain from 1988 to 1990 when he was also a member of the Committee of the European Society for Catholic Theology.

Professor Lash has written 11 books, including the widely acclaimed Easter in Ordinary, edited five others, and composed some 350 essays, articles and reviews for various journals. His clarity and ability to remain faithful to the most profound understandings of the Church`s teachings make his writings both a joy and a challenge.

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