As the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council approaches on Oct. 12, it is well to remember the diocese which likely did the most thorough job of implementing the council's teachings – the Archdiocese of Krakow, Poland.
At Vatican II, Bishop and then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla was a highly involved participant, making numerous interventions, several of which are reflected in the council's final documents. One of Wojtyla's most important learnings from Vatican II was that a zealous, educated laity was essential to implementing the council's teachings.
So, in 1972, the archbishop opened a synod whose formal sessions were not completed until 1979 after he had become Pope John Paul II. Indeed, many of the study groups established for the synod continued to meet decades after the synod ended.
As told in George Weigel's biography of the pope, Witness to Hope, the Krakow synod did produce numerous recommendations which changed the life of the diocese. However, for two years before the thousands of people participating in the synod even began to consider recommendations for action, the 500 study groups prayed, read and studied the 16 documents of Vatican II with their archbishop's commentary, Sources for Renewal, as a guide. They became knowledgeable in what the council taught.
Wojtyla organized his commentary around the notion of the baptized person's participation in Christ's "offices" of priest, prophet and king. He maintained that by participating in these offices a person can realize the council's teaching that "man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself."
By exercising their priestly office, the baptized give themselves to God in worship, bringing their spiritual sacrifices to the liturgy. In their prophetic ministry, Christians give themselves to the truth through obedience to God's word and Church teaching. In their kingly or royal office, the faithful bring themselves under God's rule and endeavour to permeate society with the spirit of the Gospel.
The study groups made the council real for the Catholics of Krakow and preserved that diocese from the divisions between progressives and traditionalists that have made efforts to implement the council so difficult elsewhere. According to Weigel, the synod strengthened the evangelical and apostolic life of the diocese.
Fifty years after the opening of the council, the Church today is still struggling over the meaning of Vatican II and is still struggling to make it a reality.
Ironically, when Wojtyla first told his associates of his idea for a synod in 1970, they told him that, for various reasons, it couldn't be done. However, it was done and it still stands today as an excellent model for bringing the teachings of Vatican II to life.