The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. This exceedingly rare item was featured on the second episode of the series,Popes of the 20th Century.
Here is Father’s Commentary:
This item is an example of the passports that the Vatican issued to all 2800 bishops participating in the Second Vatican Council. Imagine! We are talking about the 1960s while Communist governments were in the height of their power. And so the Vatican wanted to make sure it would secure the safety of all the bishops throughout the world. Many of them were traveling from Communist countries as well as other countries that maybe had political situations that were less stable–for example, Cuba. This passport was actually issued to a bishop from Cuba to ensure that he would have as safe travel as the Holy See as a State could grant.
This passport is a rare and significant item. Imagine getting all these bishops to all arrive in the same place at the same time, safely!
The council was unique in that it went in and out of sessions throughout several years. Imagine the amount of traveling the bishops must have done, just going back and forth from their nations. It must have been quite difficult. Just think of how different travel was in the 1960s compared to today. And there were 4 sessions, so they went back and forth each time. It always began in the Fall and ended in December.
October 11, 1962 to December 8, 1962
September 29, 1963 to December 4, 1963
September 14, 1964 to November 21, 1964
September 14, 1965 to December 8, 1965
So as you can see, there was a lot of travel that these bishops had to do. The passports ensured their safety.
This reminds us again of the universal nature of the Church. Over 2850 bishops from around the world participated in one or more sessions of the Second Vatican Council.
These bishops from all over the world, from all nations, came together during that time. Their passports have several pages, and each of the pages say the same thing but in many different languages. For example,
Hamlet John Cicognani
Cardinal Bishop of the Holy Roman Church, of the Title of the Suburban See of Frascati
Secretary of State to His Holiness Pope John XXIII
requests all Civil and Military Authorities to permit the bearer, who is one of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, freely to pass, and in case of need, to provide him with every opportune assistance and protection.
From the Vatican, 1963
So we can see the English words right here requesting safe transport and safe travel.
Of course many of those bishops had to travel through several countries to get to Italy. So, they were crossing a number of borders, and that accounts for the number of languages.
What we see is the political authority–even though it’s not a military authority–the political authority that the Holy See has to be able to issue passports. Of course, you could have a country not recognize it or not even appreciate or honor it. But the fact that the Vatican, as a nation, can produce passports is quite an interesting thing considering that it’s the smallest country in the world.
And another thing that is interesting about this item is the coat of arms on the cover of the passport. It is that of Pope John XXIII who opened the Council. He died after the first Session.
So when we think about this Council, we think of the two popes, John XXIII and Paul VI. John XXIII called the Council, and he was only Pope for one session. But Pope Paul VI was the pope for three of the sessions. So both are equally associated with the Council for those reasons. They are two very historically significant popes, due to the fact of the Council itself.
Also, John XXIII was elected to be a ‘transitional pope’, supposedly, because he was an older man. After a long pontificate, like Pius XII, who was Pope for 19 years, they thought they’d elected a transitional Pope. Instead, he was the Pope who called the Second Vatican Council.
This is the actual passport issued to the Cuban Bishop Carlos Riu Angles.
This is one of only three passports issued for participants of the II Vatican Council that Father Kunst has ever seen. And this Collection has all three of them.
Bishop Angles died in 1971 at the age of 70.