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Saint Of The Day On 29 May 2023: Saint Paul VI, Pope

Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, was born in Concesio, a small town in the Brescia area, on 26 September 1897 into a Catholic family that was very committed politically and socially

In the autumn of 1916 he entered the seminary in Brescia and four years later was ordained a priest in the cathedral. He then moved to Rome to attend philosophy courses at the Pontifical Gregorian University and literature courses at the State University, graduating in canon law in 1922 and in civil law in 1924.

Entry into the Vatican

In 1923 he received his first assignment from the Vatican Secretariat of State, which assigned him to the Apostolic Nunciature in Warsaw; the following year he was appointed a minuteman.

In that period he was closely involved in the activities of Catholic university students organised in the Fuci, of which he was national ecclesiastical assistant from 1925 to 1933.

A close collaborator of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, he remained close to him even when the latter was elected Pope in 1939 taking the name of Pius XII: it was Montini, in fact, who prepared the outline of the extreme but useless appeal for peace that Pope Pacelli launched by radio on 24 August 1939, on the eve of the world conflict: ‘Nothing is lost with peace! All can be lost with war!”.

From the Ambrosian Church to the Papal Throne

In 1954, unexpectedly, Montini became Archbishop of Milan.

It was here that the true pastor in him emerged: special attention was dedicated to the problems of the world of work, immigration and the suburbs, where he promoted the construction of more than one hundred new churches and where he went on the ‘Mission for Milan’, in search of his ‘distant brothers’.

He was the first to receive the purple from John XXIII, on 15 December 1958, and took part in the Second Vatican Council, where he openly supported the reforming line.

When Roncalli died, he was elected Pope on 21 June 1963 and chose the name Paul, with a clear reference to the evangelising apostle.

The reforming force of the Council and the goals of Paul VI

One of Paul VI’s fundamental objectives was to emphasise continuity with his predecessor in every way: for this he took over Vatican II, conducting the Council work with careful mediation, favouring and moderating the reforming majority, until its conclusion on 8 December 1965 and preceded by the mutual revocation of the excommunications between Rome and Constantinople in 1054.

Consistent with his own reforming inspiration, he implemented a profound action to change the structures of the central government of the Church, creating new bodies for dialogue with non-Christians and non-believers, establishing the Synod of Bishops and reforming the Holy Office.

Engaged in the not easy task of implementing and applying the indications that emerged from Vatican II, he also gave an impetus to ecumenical dialogue through relevant meetings and initiatives.

The renewal impulse in the sphere of Church government then translated into the reform of the Curia in 1967.

The Encyclicals: in dialogue with the Church and the world

His desire for dialogue within the Church, with the different confessions and religions and with the world is at the centre of the first encyclical Ecclesiam suam of 1964, followed by six others: among these are the Populorum progressio of 1967 on the development of peoples, which had a very wide resonance, and the Humanae vitae of 1968, dedicated to the question of birth control methods, which aroused much controversy even in many Catholic circles.

Other significant documents of the pontificate are the apostolic letter Octogesima adveniens of 1971 on the pluralism of the political and social commitment of Catholics, and the apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi of 1975 on the evangelisation of the contemporary world.

Paul VI and the novelty of travel

Paul VI’s innovations are not confined within the Vatican.

He is the first pope to introduce the custom of travel since his election: in fact, the first three of the nine journeys that took him to the five continents during his pontificate date back to the Council period: in 1964 he went to the Holy Land and then to India, and in 1965 to New York, where he delivered a historic speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

Ten, instead, were his visits to Italy. The global scope of this Pope can also be seen in the work of accentuating the character of universal representation for the College of Cardinals and the centrality of the role of the Holy See’s international policy, especially for peace, so much so as to establish a special World Day celebrated since 1968 on the First of January each year.

The last years and death

The final phase of his pontificate was dramatically marked by the kidnapping and assassination of his friend Aldo Moro, for whom in April 1978 he addressed an appeal to the Red Brigades asking in vain for his release.

He died on the evening of 6 August of the same year, at his residence in Castel Gandolfo, almost suddenly, and is buried in the Vatican Basilica.

He was declared blessed on 19 October 2014 by Pope Francis, who then canonised him in St Peter’s Square on 14 October 2018.

This is a prayer that Paul VI recited in times of difficulty

Lord, I believe; I want to believe in you.

O Lord, let my faith be full.

O Lord, let my faith be free.

O Lord, let my faith be sure.

O Lord, let my faith be strong.

O Lord, let my faith be joyful.

O Lord, let my faith be industrious.

O Lord, let my faith be humble.


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