Early life of Pope Paul VI
The son of a middle-class lawyer who was also a journalist and local political figure and of a mother belonging to the same social background, Montini was in his early years educated mainly at home because of frail health. Later he studied in Brescia. Ordained priest on May 29, 1920, he was sent by his bishop to Rome for higher studies and was eventually recruited for the Vatican diplomatic service. His first assignment, in May 1923, was to the staff of the apostolic nunciature (papal ambassador’s post) in Warsaw, but persistent ill health brought him back to Rome before the end of that same year. He then pursued special studies at the Ecclesiastical Academy, the training school for future Vatican diplomats, and at the same time resumed work at the Vatican Secretariat of State, where he remained in posts of increasing importance for more than 30 years.
In 1939 Montini was appointed papal undersecretary of state and later, in 1944, acting secretary for ordinary (or nondiplomatic) affairs. He declined an invitation to be elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1953. In the beginning of November 1954, Pope Pius XII appointed him archbishop of Milan, and Pope John XXIII named him cardinal in 1958. He was elected pope on June 21, 1963, choosing to be known as Paul VI.
In his first message to the world, he committed himself to a continuation of the work begun by John XXIII. Throughout his pontificate the tension between papal primacy and the collegiality of the episcopacy was a source of conflict. On September 14, 1965 he announced the establishment of the Synod of Bishops called for by the Council fathers, but some issues that seemed suitable for discussion by the synod were reserved to himself. Celibacy, removed from the debate of the fourth session of the Council, was made the subject of an encyclical, June 24, 1967); the regulation of birth was treated in Humanae vitae July 24, 1968), his last encyclical. The controversies over these two pronouncements tended to overshadow the last years of his pontificate.
Social and ecumenical interests of Paul VI
On January 6, 1971, in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican, Paul VI conferred the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize on the Albanian-born Mother Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, who had spent most of her life in India, where she had founded a special religious congregation of women dedicated to the alleviation of the countless ills of the poorest classes in the country. Paul VI declared on this occasion that the award was intended to centre attention on how even a humble individual without means can further world peace without fanfare, simply by proving in day-to-day action that “every man is my brother” Here, as in other instances, Paul’s aim was to confront the world at large with the inescapable problems of justice and peace while at the same time proving conclusively that even these apparently insoluble problems can and must be settled with realistic courage and individual perseverance.
Pope Paul had an unaccountably poor press and his public image suffered by comparison with his outgoing and jovial predecessor. Those who knew him best, however, describe him as a brilliant man, deeply spiritual, humble, reserved and gentle, a man of “infinite courtesy.” He was one of the most traveled popes in history and the first to visit five continents. His remarkable corpus of thought must be searched out in his many addresses and letters as well as in his major pronouncements. His successful conclusion of Vatican II has left its mark on the history of the Church, but history will also record his rigorous reform ofthe Roman curia, his well-received address to the UN in 1965, his encyclical Populorum progressio (1967), his second great social letter Octogesima adveniens (1971) the first to show an awareness of many problems that have only recently been brought to light and his apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, his last major pronouncement which also touched on the central question of the just conception of liberation and salvation.
Pope Paul Vl, the pilgrim pope, died on August 6, 1978, the feast of the Transfiguration. He asked that his funeral be simple with no catafalque and no monument over his grave.