11 Modern Saints - Fr F. M. Britto

posted May 16, 2019, 3:24 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated May 16, 2019, 3:24 AM ]

The first Pope to visit India (Pope St Paul VI)

This year, our homes are adorned with the Mission Sunday calendars picturing Pope St Paul VI. In 2000 years of Christianity in India, he was the first Pope ever to step on the soil of not only our motherland, but also Asia. This is the first year the Church celebrates the feast day of this recently declared saint.

Giovanni Battista Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI, was born on September 26, 1897 at Concesio, Italy. After his ordination on May 29, 1920, his bishop sent him to Rome for higher studies. He was then recruited for the Vatican diplomatic services. He served at the Vatican Secretariat of State for 30 years with increased responsibilities. Pope Pius XII appointed him Archbishop of Milan - the largest Italian diocese - in November 1954, and Pope John XXIII named him a cardinal in 1958. As expected, he succeeded Pope John XXIII on June 21, 1963, and took the name Paul VI.

He continued the Second Vatican Council begun by his predecessor, guiding the remaining three sessions. After the completion of the Council on December 8, 1965, Pope Paul VI was confronted with the formidable task of implementing the decisions. In July 1968, he published the much debated encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) on artificial means of birth control. His stand on the retention of the priestly celibacy (Sacerdotalis caelibatus, June 1967) also brought much criticism. The Pope was also disturbed by the number of religious men and women asking for release from their vows, or quitting their religious lives.

From the very outset, he gave importance to the solution of social problems and their impact on world peace. Such problems dominated in his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam (His Church) in August 1964, and then in Populorum Progressio (Progress of the Peoples), March 1967. As a great devotee of Mary, he declared her as the Mother of the Church, and issued three Marian encyclicals. He authored seven encyclicals.

With changes proposed in the liturgy by Vatican II, he promulgated a new Roman Missal in 1969. He introduced vernacular language in the liturgy. Paul VI established the Synod of bishops as an advisory body to the papacy in September 1965. Since he had worked in the Roman Curia for years, he enacted gradual reforms. In August 1966, he made all bishops submit their resignations on their 75th birthday.

Paul VI made history as the first Pope to leave Europe. He undertook a series of unparallelled apostolic journeys that saw him set foot on five continents, earning him the nickname 'The Pilgrim Pope'. In 1970, Paul VI undertook the longest papal journey in modern history, ten days visiting Tehran, Pakistan, Philippines, Samoa, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka. When he stepped down from the plane in Manila, an attempt was made on his life, but providentially, he escaped with no serious injury. In all these trips, basically, he dealt with the same themes: social justice, world peace, illiteracy, brotherhood and international cooperation.