“No more war; war never again”. Pope Paul VI (I897-1978) made this plea at the United Nations on October of I965. He continued: “It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and all mankind”. No wonder Pope Paul is called a “Peacebuilder”.
The family of Pope Paul was very successful. His father, Giorgio Montini, was an editor, lawyer and attached to parliament. His mother was very active in Catholic Action. He had two brothers, one became a physician and the other a lawyer.
Shortly after his ordination, Fr. Montini joined the Vatican Secretariat of State, where he served for 30 years. In 1954, He was named Archbishop of Milan. He sought to win back to the Church disaffected workers. He called himself the‘Archbishop of the workers’. He also oversaw the rebuilding of the local Church that was tremendously disrupted by World War II.
Cardinal Montini was seen as the most likely successor to Pope John XXIII. This was because of his closeness to both Popes, Pius XII and John XXIII, as well as his pastoral and administrative background, and his insight and determination. When Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer in June of I963, this triggered a conclave to elect a new pope. Cardinal Montini was elected Pope on the 6th ballot of the papal conclave on June 21st. He took the name of Paul VI. He wrote the following in his journal: “The position is unique. It brings great solitude. I was solitary before but now my solitude becomes complete and awesome”.
Pope Paul guided the Church from 1963 till his death 15 years later. Succeeding John XXIII, he continued the Second Vatican Council, which he brought to a close in I965. During that time Pope Paul implemented its many reforms and fostered improved relations with Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches, which resulted in many historic meetings and agreements.
Pope Paul established World Day of Peace. It was inspired, he said, by the encyclical letter of Pope John XXIII, ‘Peace on Earth’. The day is dedicated to universal peace and was first observed on January I, I968. The World Day of Peace has often been the occasion on which popes made important declarations on various subjects; for example, the United Nations, human rights, women’s rights, labor unions, right to life, peace in the Holy Land. It was on the World Day of Peace in I972 that Pope Paul made his famous maxim: “If you want peace, work for justice”.
Pope Paul’s most obvious achievement was, of course, to shepherd the church through the Second Vatican Council. As his biographer wrote: “He managed to complete the council without dividing the Church; he reformed the Roman Curia without alienating it; he introduced collegiality without undermining his papal office; he practiced ecumenism without impairing Catholic identity; he pulled off the most difficult trick of all, combining openness with fidelity”.
Pope Paul suffered much in his lifetime. The opposition to his encyclical Humanae Vitae (of Human Life) hurt him deeply. He did not excommunicate his opponents but bore hostility with heroic courage. One of his last writings sums up his life of patient suffering: “I do not think that I have been properly understood. I am filled with great joy. With all our affliction I am overjoyed”. (2 Cor. 2:4)
Pope Paul even had to endure an attempted assassination which took place at the Manila airport, in the Philippines, in November of 1970. A cassock-clad man tried to attack him with a knife. At that time I was a missionary in Manila. We priests were gathered in the Cathedral awaiting the Pope. None of us knew the reason for the long delay at the airport. When Pope Paul arrived at the Cathedral he looked pale and sickly. After the ceremony he recovered his composure and was totally himself.
Pope Paul was the original ‘Pilgrim Pope’. He was the first pontiff to travel outside Italy in modern times. In 1964 he met the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem. During 8 other foreign journeys Pope Paul visited Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 1965 he was the first to visit the U.S., and celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium.
Pope Paul was also a ‘Bridge Builder’. He called for a missionary church that would be open to the world. He wanted a church that would dialogue with other Christians and believers, and with non-believers too.
The confessor of Pope Paul wrote: “This Pope was a man of great joy…If Pope Paul was not a saint when he was elected, he became one during his pontificate. I was able to witness not only with what energy and dedication he toiled for Christ and the Church, but also, and above all, how much he suffered for Christ and the Church. I always admired not only his deep resignation but also his constant abandonment to Divine Providence”.
May St. Paul VI inspire us to be ‘Peacebuilders’.
Fr. Theodore Walsh, C.P.