Saturday, 28 June 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: Part 3

The biography of Pope Paul VI written by Alden Hatch has the title "Pope Paul VI: Apostle on the move". Particularly since the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, we have become accustomed to a Papacy that travels to encounter the peoples of the world rather than a Papacy that resides in Rome and, to some extent at least, waits for the world to travel to meet it. In comparison to Pope John Paul II, Pope's Benedict XVI and Francis were and are not great travellers.

However, it is worth recognising that Pope Paul VI set the precedent for modern Pope's who travel. The Vatican website contains the texts associated with his visits, though not all of the texts are available in English. See Paul VI: Travels. Among these visits, history perhaps takes most note of the visits to the Holy Land and to the United Nations as being of particular significance at their own times and of continuing significance for future times.

Reading Alden Hatch's account of Pope Paul's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is very striking. From the reaction of the Bishops of the Second Vatican Council who first heard of the proposed visit on the last day of the Second Session (they had no inkling beforehand and went wild as they realised the implications of Pope Paul's rather quiet words); to the reaction of the people of Jordan (Pope Paul's vehicle procession had to move at a crawl through the streets of Amman on the way to the River Jordan); to his being completely engulfed by the crowd in East Jerusalem as he followed the Via Dolorosa (the area was then part of Jordanian controlled territory); to the unbelievably moving meetings with the Patriarch of Constantinople; and ending with a rapturous return to Rome (people lined the Via Appia well out into the country towards Ciampino airfield, and Pope Paul was cheered by crowds all the way to the Vatican).
"... we wish to go to Palestine in January to honour personally - in the holy places where Christ was born, lived, died, and ascended to heaven after His Resurrection - the first mysteries of our faith, the Incarnation, and the Redemption.... We shall see that blessed land whence Peter set forth and where not one of his successors has returned. Most humbly and briefly we shall return there as an expression of prayer, penance, and renovation to offer to Christ His Church, to summon to this one holy Church our separated brethren ... to beseech Christ our Lord for the salvation of the entire human race."
Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land this year was precisely conceived to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul's earlier visit. Like that earlier visit, it had at its centre point a meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The text of Pope Paul's address to the General Assembly of the United Nations in October 1965 can be found in the original French on the Vatican website; an English translation can be found here. The Catholic Church is unique in the nature of its representation at the United Nations, as a Permanent Observer; and it maintains an extensive engagement with the different organs of the United Nations (as I write I have before me a book containing texts from a visit of Pope John Paul II to UNESCO, and a conference co-hosted by the Holy See and UNESCO to mark the 25th anniversary of that visit). It is useful to read the address given by Pope John Paul II to the UN General Assembly in October 1979 alongside that of Pope Paul.

I would recommend reading the whole of Pope Paul's address. The extracts below are just the passages that particularly strike me, and which indicate something of Pope Paul's specific character.
We are the bearer of a message for all mankind. And this We are, not only in Our own personal name and in the name of the great Catholic family, but also in the name of those Christian brethren who share the sentiments We express here, and particularly of those who kindly charged Us explicitly to be their spokesman here. Like a messenger who, after a long journey, finally succeeds in delivering the letter entrusted to him, We are conscious of living through a privileged moment, however brief, which fulfills a desire cherished in Our heart for nearly twenty centuries. For, you remember, We have been journeying long and We bring with Us a long history; We here celebrate the epilogue of a toilsome pilgrimage in search of a conversation with the entire world, from the day the command was given to Us: "Go and bring the good tidings to all peoples." And it is you who represent all peoples.
Pope Paul's moving appeal in favour of peace was cited again by Pope John Paul II, and more recently by Pope Francis during the vigil of prayer for peace in St Peter's Square in September 2013:
And now We come to the high point of Our message: Negatively, first: the words which you expect from Us and which We cannot pronounce without full awareness of their gravity and solemnity: Never one against the other, never, never again. Was it not principally for this purpose that the United Nations came into being: against war and for peace? Listen to the clear words of a great man, the late John Kennedy, who declared four years ago: "Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind." ....  No more war, war never again. It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind. Our thanks to you, glory to you, who for twenty years have labored for peace and who have even suffered the loss of illustrious men in this sacred cause. Thanks and glory to you for the conflicts which you have prevented and for those which you have brought to an end. 
It is Pope Paul's final paragraph that appears to me full of prescience for the future, perhaps having a foresight to the situation of the culture of our modern times. These times combine an increasing secularisation and abandonment of an objective sense of moral conscience at the level of culture with an emergence of the question of religion and its relation to culture as never before. We can recognise in this final paragraph a theme developed in much more detail by Pope John Paul II in his address to the General Assembly, a theme typical of Pope Benedict XVI in his understanding of the importance of religious freedom, and a theme to which Pope Francis has also returned.
Today, as never before, in an era marked by such human progress, there is need for an appeal to the moral conscience of man. For the danger comes, not from progress, nor from science on the contrary if properly utilized, these could resolve many of the grave problems which beset mankind. The real danger comes from man himself, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments, which can be used as well for destruction as for the loftiest conquests.
In a word, then, the edifice of modern civilization must be built upon spiritual principles; the only principles capable not only of supporting it but also of enlightening and animating it. And these indispensable principles of superior wisdom can only rest - it is our conviction, you understand - on faith in God.  That unknown God of whom Saint Paul spoke to the Athenians on the Areopagus? Unknown to them, although without realizing it, they sought Him and He was close to them, as happens to so many men of our times? For Us, in any case, and for all those who accept the ineffable revelation which Christ has given us of Him, He is the living God, the Father of all men. 
Alden Hatch points out an interesting sentence in the address - again, full of prescience for what has happened since in terms of the activity of the United Nations:
C'est dans votre Assemblée que le respect de la vie, même en ce qui concerne le grand problème de la natalité, doit trouver sa plus haute profession et sa plus raisonnable défense. Votre tâche est de faire en sorte que le pain soit suffisamment abondant à la table de l'humanité, et non pas de favoriser un contrôle artificiel des naissances, qui serait irrationnel, en vue de diminuer le nombre des convives au banquet de la vie.  
Respect for life, even with regard to the great problem of the birth rate, must find here in your Assembly its highest affirmation and its most rational defence. Your task is to ensure that there is enough bread on the tables of mankind, and not to encourage an artificial control of births, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.

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