John Paul Remembers Pope Paul VI
Pope John Paul II met with 3,000 pilgrims who traveled to his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo for his general audience Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration. He noted that the date marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI, who died at Castel Gandolfo on Aug. 6, 1978.
The Holy Father honored Pope Paul VI as a man “who realized the importance of making the actions and choices of every day fit the “great passing' toward which we are preparing.” Pope Paul VI continues to challenge us to search for the truth, he said. “For believers, death is like the final “amen' of their earthly existence. This was certainly the case for the servant of God, Paul VI, who in his “great passing' manifested his most noble profession of faith,” the Holy Father noted.
The Pope also noted that Aug. 4 was the 100th anniversary of the election of St. Pius X as Pope. He honored St. Pius X for the important role he played in the history of the Church and the world at the turn of the last century, and for the example he left us of total fidelity to Christ and passionate love for his Church.
One hundred years ago, on Aug. 4, 1903, my predecessor St. Pius X was elected. Born in Riese, a little town in the foothills of the Alps in the Veneto region, a land that has remained deeply Christian, Giuseppe Sarto spent his entire life in the Veneto region until he was elected Pope. With deep affection I greet the large group of pilgrims from Treviso, who have come here with their bishop to honor the memory of their illustrious native son.
Your presence here, my dear brothers and sisters, is an opportunity to highlight the important role that this Successor of Peter played in the history of the Church and of mankind at the beginning of the 20th century. When Pius XII canonized him a saint during the Marian Year on May 29, 1954, he described him as an “indomi-table champion of the Church and a providential saint for our times,” whose work “seemed like a battle that this giant carried out in order to defend a priceless treasure: the interior unity of the Church in her innermost foundation — the faith” (Acta Apostolicae Sedis XLVI, 1954, 308). May this holy Pope, who left us the example of total fidelity to Christ and passionate love for his Church, continue to keep watch over the Church!
I would also like to recall another great pope. Indeed, today marks the 25th anniversary of the day — Aug. 6, 1978 — when the servant of God, Pope Paul VI, passed away at this residence here in Castel Gandolfo. It was the evening of the day when the Church celebrates that luminous mystery of the Transfiguration of Christ, “the sun that never sets” (A Liturgical Hymn). It was Sunday, the weekly Easter, the Day of the Lord and of the gift of the Spirit (see the Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini, 19).
I was already able to offer my reflections on Paul VI during a recent general audience marking the 40th anniversary of his election as bishop of Rome. Today, at this very place where his earthly life drew to a close, I would like to listen once again with you, my dear brothers and sisters, to his spiritual testament, his last and greatest word, which was, to be precise, his death.
Sharing in Glory
During his last general audience on Wednesday, Aug. 2, four days before his death, he addressed the pilgrims about faith, as the strength and light of the Church (see Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, XVI 1978, p. 586). In the text that he prepared for the Angelus on Aug. 6, which he was unable to deliver, he gazed upon the transfigured Christ and wrote the following words: “That light, in which he was bathed, is and will also be the portion of our inheritance and splendor. We are called to share in that great glory, because we “share in the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4)” (ibid, p. 588).
Paul VI realized the importance of adapting the activities and choices of daily life to the “great passing” for which he was preparing. Everything that he wrote in Pensiero alla morte, for example, is proof of this. There we read, among other things, some words that turn our thoughts to today's feast of the Transfiguration: “In the end,” he wrote, “I would like to be in the light … With this final glance, I will realize that this fascinating and mysterious scene (the world) is a reverberation or a reflection of the first and only Light … an invitation to view the invisible Sun, “whom no one has ever seen: the only Son, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him' (see John 1:18). So be it, amen” (ibid, 24-25).
For believers, death is like the final “amen” of their earthly existence. This was certainly the case for the servant of God, Paul VI, who in his “great passing” manifested his most noble profession of faith. Having solemnly proclaimed his Credo of the People of God at the close of the Year of Faith, he sealed it with his final and very personal “amen,” the culmination of his commitment to Christ that gave meaning to his entire life.
“May the light of faith know no setting.” This is what we sing in a liturgical hymn. Today we thank God because this beloved predecessor of mine made these words a reality. Twenty-five years after his death, his lofty stature as a teacher and defender of the faith at a dramatic time in the history of the Church and the world seems to shine even brighter. Thinking back to what he himself wrote regarding our era, namely that it puts more faith in witnesses than in teachers (see the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41), with devoted gratitude we wish to remember him as a genuine witness of Christ our Lord, who was in love with the Church and always careful to read the signs of the times in contemporary culture.
May every member of the people of God — or, should I say, every man and every woman of good will — honor his venerable memory by being committed to constantly and sincerely seeking the truth. This truth shines fully in the face of Christ, and, as Paul VI liked to recall, the Virgin Mary helps us to understand and live it better through her maternal and solicitous intercession.