Saint Paul VI, Pope of dialogue elected 60 years ago
Tuesday, June 20, 2023
Pope Paul VI with Cardinal Albino Luciani, the future John Paul I. Wikimedia Commons.
Who was Paul VI and why is he important for us today? He was elected 60 years ago this week, on June 21, 1963. This was right in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, which had been convoked by Pope John XXIII. It was John XXIII who had the idea to launch a council to open up the windows of the Church, so that she could better accomplish her mission in the world today. Unfortunately, Pope John died a few months after the first session of the Council, and it was up to his successor to decide whether or not it should go on at all. Paul VI immediately chose to continue the momentum of the Council and bring its work to fruition. Together with John XXIII, he was the “Pope of the Council”' who worked ardently to renew the Church in the modern world. Born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897 near Brescia in northern Italy, he served as a Vatican diplomat in Poland, a university chaplain in Rome, deputy to the Vatican Secretary of State, and as Pope Pius XII’s right-hand man. He was appointed Archbishop of Milan in 1954, his last assignment before being elected pope.Paul VI’s first encyclical of 1964, called Ecclesiam Suam or “His Church,” meaning the Church of Christ. It was a strong call for dialogue, marking the moment when the Church opened up to the uncharted territory of dialogue with other Christians outside the Catholic Church, as well as with other religions such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. His travels show his openness to the world and to other religious traditions: he was the first pope to visit the Holy Land, where he met Patriarch Athenagoras. Together they removed the mutual excommunications between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches that had existed for almost a thousand years. Paul VI was also the first pope to travel in an airplane, going to New York in 1965 to address the United Nations and advocate for peace amidst the tense years of the Cold War. He had lived through the horrors of two world wars, leading him to declare to the nations of the world: “Never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!” He also journeyed to India to encounter the cultural and religious diversity of the country in a spirit of dialogue and fraternity. In his writings and homilies, Paul VI emphasised the joy of being a Christian, especially in the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino, “Rejoice in the Lord!” His Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi on “Evangelization in the Modern World” is a compass for us still today as we discover how to witness to Christ in contemporary society. “The Church exists in order to evangelize,” he wrote, and it is up to us to find the most fruitful ways of spreading the flavour of the Gospel in every culture and in every new generation.By his words and witness, Paul VI gave the Church a Magisterium of open arms reaching out like the Good Samaritan – a sign of openness to others, to dialogue, to solidarity, and to fraternity. Paul VI believed deeply that the Church has something to receive from the diverse cultures of the world, that it is better to be in solidarity than in conflict, and that God reveals himself to us through our relationships with those who are different from us. Let us read Paul VI's documents and be inspired by his teachings to renew our mission today.In our time, Pope Francis’ own ministry is inspired by that of Paul VI. He calls us to be a Church that goes out of ourselves to encounter others, to share with them the joy of Christ, and to carry out the mission that God entrusts to us in the service of the entire human family. Saint Paul VI, pope of dialogue, pray for us.