On 19 October 2014, pope Francis will perform beatification of Paul VI, pope of the Vatican Council II

On 6 August 1978, on the day of Lord’s Transformation, Paul VI gave his soul to Lord. People found it very surprising, because last Wednesday the Pope was present during the general audience and worked nearly till his death. On 6 August he felt very bad, so he asked his secretary to celebrate the holy Mass, from whom he received the Anointing Sacrament of the Ill, after which he prayed ‘Our Father’ prayer till his death. It was how the rich but sometimes dramatic pontificate of the pope Montini ended, which had began 15 years earlier, on 21 June 1963.

On 19 October 2014 – over 36 years from that hot afternoon in August, when Paul VI was dying in his papal residence in Castel Gandolfo – on St. Paul’s Square in Vatican, pope Francis will be presiding over the solemn ceremony of beatification of his predecessor. Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with cardinal Giovanni Battista Re – the retired prefect of Bishops’ Congregation, the compatriot of pope Montini ( he was born in the same diocese Bresca, are namesakes, studied in the same seminary), working with him in the Vatican Secretary of State for 7 years

WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - Eminency, I would like to start our talk with the question which concerns Poland. What were relations of Giovanni Battista Montini with Poland?

CARDINAL GIOVANNI BATTISTA: - In the beginning of his ministry in diplomacy of the Holy See for 6 months, Prelate priest Montini worked in the apostolic nunciature in Warsaw, and, in this way, he got to know religiousness of Poles. Therefore, he always considered Polish issues and expressed fondness to our country. Next, as the substitute in the Secretary of State, he observed painful fates of Poland occupied by the Nazis Germany. When he became pope, he wanted to visit Poland on the occasion of the millennium of baptism but communist authorities did not give consent to it.

– Cardinal Deskur, a friend of Karol Wojtyła, who worked in Curia during the pontificate of Paul VI, once told me that it was Pope who somehow had contributed to the election of the archbishop of Cracow for the Holy See…

– I repeat that Paul VI expressed his great fondness towards Poles and Poland, therefore, first he raised Karol Wojtyła to the dignity of the cardinal, next he invited him to preach retreats for the Curia, and then he appointed him a reporter of an important synod on evangelization – thanks to it, the world recognized the Archbishop of Cracow. Therefore, we can say that Paul VI really paved the way for the Polish Pope.

– Paul VI will pass to the history, first of all, as the pope of the Vatican Council II…

– That is true. John XXIII established and opened the Vatican Council, but it was Paul VI who directed his works with a certain hand. He respected full freedom of fathers of the Vatican Council, but intervened when papal intervention was needed. He was a real helmsman of the Vatican Council.

– What can we say about the great opening of Paul VI to the contemporary world?

– Paul VI, even if he was not always understood, loved the contemporary world, admiring its riches of culture and science and he did everything so that the world would open its heart to Christ, the Redeemer of the man. Paul VI was very worried how to serve to people today, supporting them on the earthly road, and also indicating them the purpose which is the eternity. This anxiety caused a situation that the Pope was aiming at a dialogue with everybody, even people, who do not believe, so as to open the style of the human cooperation based on mutual opening up and full respect in justice, solidarity and love. Paul VI looked at our contemporary world with great friendliness. One day he said: ‘If the world feels unfamiliar for Christianity, Christianity does not feel unfamiliar for the world’.

– What were basic elements of spirituality of pope Montini?

– Spirituality of Paul VI was based on a prayer and meditation as well as boundless love to Christ, Our Lady and the Church. There was great ‘spiritual tension’ in him, manifested in his tendency to concentration, meditation, inner life and reflection. He was characterized by mystical tendencies which led him to constant contemplation of God’s mystery.

– Everyone remembers Paul VI as a physically fragile person…

– He was an allegedly fragile person, physically weak, with constant health problems but, on the other hand, he was gifted with unusual intelligence and great power of will.

– What innovative gestures of the Pope will pass into history?

– The pontificate of Paul VI was featured by many initiatives and gestures which none of popes had done before. He was the first pope to travel by plane; the first pope who ‘returned’ to Palestine from where St. Peter had arrived; he was the first pope to have visited the headquarter of UNO, where he introduced himself as a pilgrim bringing nations the message of love and peace – the Gospel for 2000 years. He was the first pope to have made apostolic journeys to Africa, Latin America and Far East.

– His another gesture passed into history as well – sale of the papal tiara…

– That is true. Paul VI resigned from tiara, took it off his head publicly on 13 November 1964, giving it for auction. Income from it was given for help to the poor, but the Pope wanted to emphasize with his gesture that papal authority should not be mixed with political authority.

– Paul VI also changed Vatican…

– The Pope changed Vatican in a basic way, abolishing papal court. He also wanted the Curia to be characterized by a simple mode of life, and its action to be pastoral and international, so that the Church could serve to the whole humankind, than ever before.

– Cardinal Siri says that Paul VI was the pope who suffered the most among popes of the last decades. Why was it so?

– Because his pontificate, which was grace for the Church and the world, was a difficult road of the cross for the Pope, because of extraordinary sufferings which he had to accept. He had to manage the Church in one of the most difficult periods of history, because of strong opposite trends which shocked Peter’s Boat and because of the climate of protest being in the society.

– We must remember that during the pontificate of Pau VI there were revolutionary movements of the year 1968 which criticized traditional societies with their values and contested all authorities, including the Church ones. In the Church it was a delicate post- conciliar period and we cannot forget about attacks on the Pope after his publishing the encyclical ‘Humanae vitae’.

– Maybe, that is why Paul VI stated that life on the earth is ‘wonderful’, but also ‘painful and dramatic’.


„Niedziela” 42/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
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