Friday, 16 May 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: Part One

I am quite convinced that the Catholic Church has been gifted in our times with exactly the right Popes, at exactly the right times, to meet the needs of her mission. At a time when there seems to be a developing fashion for criticising recent Popes - and Pope Paul VI has always been a ready target for criticism from different tendencies within the Church - I was delighted to learn of the beatification of Paul VI to be celebrated in October of this year. I share the feelings about this expressed by Aunty Joanna (Working closely with Pius XII ...) and Fr Alex Lucie-Smith (If Pope Paul was a saint, he was a martyr too — a martyr for truth and a martyr to duty). I hope that the beatification will prompt the writing and publication of a full study of Pope Paul.

As Monsignor Montini, and Sostituto in the Secretariat of State in the Vatican, the future Pope Paul VI was a close collaborator of Pope Pius XII. His wartime activity alone would appear to have been enough for a whole lifetime, and represents a first "great moment" that one might consider in evaluating his life and work.

Alden Hatch, in his biography Apostle on the Move (pp.65-66), describes how Mgr Montini and Pope Pius XII reacted to the beginning of war:
Now that it was war, there was the work of mercy to be done, and Pius laid the bulk of it on Montini's shoulders. The Pope pointed out that one the great trials of was felt by the innocent civilians whose loved ones had disappeared, whether dead of prisoners no one knew. He ordered Montini to organize an information bureau to receive the frantic enquiries about missing persons and to track them down if possible.
Montini opened the bureau in the building of the Congregation for the Oriental Church... During the war this bureau received 9,981,497 inquiries and actually sent out replies to nearly all of them.
The bureau was staffed by seminary staff whose students had been called home on the outbreak of war. Mgr Montini also held overall responsibility for a vast system of relief work, made possible by the fact that the Italian government did not interrupt telegraph, postal or rail communications with the Vatican.
Supplies were purchased with money raised in countries all over the world and distributed to those in need wherever they could be reached. A great deal of food was distributed in Italy itself. For example, in 1944 three and a half million free food rations were sent out from the Vatican kitchens, and in 1945, the year the war ended, this was increased to a total of twenty-nine million, and to forty-one million in 1946.
Alden Hatch, writing in 1967, refers in one sentence, to the activity of Mgr Montini on behalf of Jews after the Nazi occupation of Italy and Rome:
But the details of the cloak-and-dagger operation that Montini set up, with the Pope's approval, for the rescue of the Jews and escaped prisoners of war are still coming out.
And it is this work to which Joanna refers in her post cited above and which she encountered in her research into the work of the Bridgettine nuns in sheltering Jews in their convent on Piazza Farnese.

Any one of these three great areas of activity would have been enough for one person to undertake. Mgr Montini undertook them in addition to his diplomatic role in the Secretariat of State...

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