CNEWA

90 Years, 90 Heroes:
Pope Paul VI

It was 53 years ago today — 21 June 1963 — that Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was elected pope and took the name Paul VI. He was the first pontiff to take the name “Paul” since 1605, and quickly set about becoming, like his namesake, a man with an evangelizing mission. He re-convened the Second Vatican Council (closed on the death of John XXIII) and became at the time the most traveled pope in history, visiting six continents.

He had a deep commitment to the work of CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, which was reflected during a historic trip to the Holy Land:

In December 1963, during the council, Paul VI announced his intention to begin his pontificate with a “pilgrimage of prayer and penance” to the Holy Land:

“We will bring to the Holy Sepulchre and to the Grotto of the Nativity the desires of individuals, of families, of nations; above all, the aspirations, the anxieties, the sufferings of the sick, the poor, the disinherited, the afflicted, of refugees, of those who suffer, those who weep, those who hunger and thirst for justice.”

He made the trip in January 1964:

Fired with the Gospel message of hope, the Pope met with heads of state and religious leaders in the Holy Land. These visits culminated with his embrace in Jerusalem of Orthodoxys spiritual leader, Patriarch Athenagoras I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

Before departing the Holy Land, Pope Paul VI assured [CNEWA’s Secretary and President of the Pontifical Mission] Msgr. Joseph Ryan, who accompanied the Pontiff, of the Holy See’s commitment to the refugees and encouraged Ryan to further the Pontifical Mission’s efforts with Palestinians.

Paul VI’s pilgrimage resulted in social rehabilitation and development projects that, with support from the Pontifical Mission, changed the lives of many: Bethlehem University; Ephpheta Institute for hearing-impaired children; Tantur Ecumenical Institute; and Notre Dame of Jerusalem Pilgrimage Center. These diverse initiatives testified to the Popes belief in the church as an instrument of reconciliation and hope.

The following year, Pope Paul VI issued the groundbreaking document, Nostra Aetate, a declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, which noted not only Christianity’s historic connection to Jews, but also its respect for Muslims:

“The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

The document also took pains to deplore any and all discrimination:

We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).

Pope Paul VI was in many ways a visionary and a prophet, whose heroic ecumenical and interfaith outreach continues to this day in the work of his successors — and in the work of CNEWA.

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