Peter Novecosky, OSB

Paul VI beatified Oct. 19

Pope Francis will honour Pope Paul VI Oct. 19 at the closing mass of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. He will beatify a pope who is remembered for presiding over the last three of the four sessions of the Second Vatican Council and for implementing it. Paul VI is also remembered for issuing the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. It prohibited artificial contraception in the context of Catholic teaching on the beauty and purpose of marriage, married love and procreation. His decision has been debated ever since, including at the current bishops synod on family life.

Pope Francis said his predecessor’s witness “nourishes within us the flame of love for Christ, love for the church and the drive to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today with mercy, patience, courage and joy.”

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, a former papal diplomat like Pope Paul, said that although he was not always understood, “Paul VI will remain the pope who loved the modern world, admired its cultural and scientific wealth and worked so that it would open its heart to Christ, the redeemer of mankind.”

Re said the pope sought dialogue with everyone, “never closing the doors to an encounter. For Paul VI, dialogue was an expression of the evangelical spirit that tries to draw close to each person, that tries to understand each person and tries to make itself understood by each person.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s first encyclical letter, Ecclesiam Suam. His opening sentence in that encyclical is, “The church was founded by Jesus Christ to be the loving mother of the whole human family and minister to its salvation.” It’s a theme that has been picked up by Pope Francis.

Known as the “pilgrim pope” and describing himself as an “apostle of peace,” Pope Paul VI was the first pope to travel widely outside Italy. He visited six continents in seven years. In his visit to the UN on Oct. 4, 1965, he pleaded, “No more war, war never again!”

On Pope Paul VI’s death on Aug. 6, 1978, I was filling in as editor of the Prairie Messenger. Below is the editorial I wrote on that occasion.

Legacy of Paul VI

It is “vital” for the world and “greatly desired” by the Catholic Church that the two “should meet together and get to know and love one another.”
Thus wrote Pope Paul VI in his inaugural encyclical letter, Ecclesiam Suam, in 1964, as he outlined his hopes for his pontificate.

In the past 15 years Paul VI made his mark on the church and the world. He spoke against war and the arms race; he journeyed to five continents; he increased church involvement in social justice issues; he made ecumenical initiatives; he urged wealthy nations to change their lifestyle and treat poor nations with justice; he increased Vatican diplomatic contacts with other countries, especially with the Eastern European communist bloc; he guided the church through the difficult post-Vatican II changes; he made sweeping changes in the Roman Curia, the church’s central administrative offices; he installed native bishops in the young churches of Asia and Africa; and he held firm on priestly celibacy, sexual morality, and male priests.

Pope Paul’s work was done this year (1978) on Aug. 6. It was exactly 14 years to the day after his first encyclical. Paul’s agenda was not yet completed, but the necessary direction had been taken.

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