VATICAN CITY — Pope Paul VI was a “courageous Christian,” a “tireless apostle” and the “great helmsman” of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis said in his homily at Paul’s beatification Mass on Sunday, Oct. 19.
The Holy Father gave thanks for the life of Paul VI at the Mass, attended by some 70,000 faithful who had gathered in unseasonably warm weather in St. Peter’s Square. As the former pope was declared blessed, a tapestry portrait was unveiled on the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Also present at the ceremony was Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom Paul VI appointed as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany, in 1977. Pope Francis and his predecessor warmly embraced and briefly exchanged a few words.
“When we look to this great pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thank you,” Francis said. “Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church.”
Recalling how Paul, who was pope from 1963 to 1978, once said he felt God had perhaps chosen himself for the role as successor of Peter to “suffer something for the Church” and, therefore, show that only the Lord was her guide and Savior, Francis said, “In his humility, the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth.”
“Before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he was able to hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom — and at times alone — to the helm of the Barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord,” the Pope said.
Render to Caesar
Referring to Sunday’s parable containing Jesus’ words: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” Francis said Paul VI truly did this “by devoting his whole life to the ‘sacred, solemn and serious task of continuing in history and extending on earth the mission of Christ,’ loving the Church and leading her so that she might be ‘a loving mother of the whole human family and at the same time the minister of its salvation.’”
Born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini to a wealthy upper-class family in the Lombardy region of northern Italy on Sept. 26, 1897, Montini entered the seminary in 1916. After his ordination in 1920, he was sent to Rome to study at the Gregorian University and the University of Rome. In 1922, he was transferred to the Ecclesiastical Academy, the training institution for papal diplomats.
After serving as a papal diplomat in the nunciature in Warsaw for a year, he was sent to Rome for health reasons. He was then assigned to the Vatican Secretariat of State, where he remained for 30 years. In 1937, he served as sostituto (deputy) to Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, who was then the Vatican secretary of state. During the war, Father Montini remained in that position and was responsible for organizing the extensive relief work and the care of political refugees.
Archbishop of Milan
In 1953, Pius XII appointed him archbishop of Milan, where he is reported to have “revitalized the entire diocese” by preaching the social message of the Gospel, appealing to the working class and promoting Catholic education at every level.
Elected pope on June 21, 1963, he led the Church through the Second Vatican Council that was begun by Pope St. John XXIII. He committed himself to a continuation of the work of his predecessor and had to deal with tension between papal primacy and the collegiality of the episcopacy.
On Sept. 14, 1965, he announced the establishment of the Synod of Bishops called for by the Council fathers. In his homily on Oct. 19, Francis recalled his words when creating the new body: “By carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods [to] the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society.”
Arguably his most famous legacy was his landmark 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae on the regulation of birth — a document produced amid much opposition and which continues to be opposed but has been widely viewed as prophetic. Prior to that, in 1967, he had produced an encyclical on aid and development, Populorum Progressio,
Those who knew Paul VI best have described him as a brilliant man, deeply spiritual, humble, reserved and gentle, a man of “infinite courtesy.” He opened a new era of papal travel and became the first pope to address the United Nations, in 1965. He died on Aug. 6, 1978, the feast of the Transfiguration.
In comments to the Register after Sunday’s ceremony, Dr. Tom Hilgers, founder and director of the Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, said the beatification “was truly an emotionally, spiritually and uplifting experience.”
Paul VI Institute
The Paul VI institute, founded in 1985 to “answer the call for reproductive health care that fully respects life,” grew out of the challenges posed by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. Hilgers said it was a “special honor” to read one of the bidding prayers at the Mass and to “represent the worldwide FertilityCare and NaProTechnology providers and all those who live and love Humanae Vitae.”
The Omaha, Neb.-based organization has served to build a culture of life in women’s health care throughout the world, developing new approaches that offer superior treatments to women (Creighton Model FertilityCare™ System and NaProTechnology) that challenge mainstream medicine’s reliance on contraception, in vitro fertilization and abortion.
Paul VI was beatified after Vatican officials approved a miracle in 2013 that was attributed to the late pope’s intercession. The miracle involved the healing of an American unborn child who was found to have a high risk of brain damage. After attempts to remove the risk proved futile, doctors said the child would either die in the womb or would be born with severe renal impairment. The mother refused an abortion and instead took the advice of a nun and prayed for Paul VI’s intercession. Ten weeks later, the child’s health had substantially improved and he was born by Caesarean section in the 39th week of pregnancy.
Following the beatification Mass and before praying the Angelus on World Mission Sunday, the Pope recalled how Paul VI was a tireless supporter of the missionary activity of the Church, as shown above all by his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, with which he sought to reawaken “zeal for and commitment to the mission of the Church."
“It is important to coincide this aspect of Paul VI’s papacy today, the very day we celebrate World Mission Sunday,” the Pope said. He also underlined Paul VI’s “profound” Marian devotion and said, “Christian people will always be grateful” to him for the apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus and for having proclaimed Mary as Mother of the Church during the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Francis proclaimed, “Mary, Queen of the Saints and Mother of the Church, help us to faithfully fulfill the Lord’s will in our life, as the new Blessed did.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.