November 25, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

20th-century Church: The warmth of Pope Paul VI

John F. Fink(Eighteenth in a series of columns)

I have a soft spot for Blessed Pope Paul VI, whose accomplishments as pope seem to have been overshadowed by St. John Paul II. Perhaps it’s because Pope Paul was the first pope I met. It happened in 1977 while I was president of the Catholic publishing company Our Sunday Visitor.

The purpose of a special audience was to present Pope Paul the first copies of The Pope’s Family Prayer Book, which he had commissioned and which had been published in Italy. Our Sunday Visitor was the publisher of the English translation of the book, which we made available to publishers in England, Australia and Canada. Representatives of those publishers were also at the special audience.

After giving a specially-bound copy of the book to him, and hearing him express his hope that many families would buy it, I gave Pope Paul a packet of some of the other material published by Our Sunday Visitor. He was particularly interested in Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) weekly newspaper. He asked about its circulation, which, at the time, was 310,000. He was also grateful for OSV’s quarterly periodical The Pope Speaks, which published his major addresses.

After looking over the May 8, 1977, issue of OSV, Pope Paul asked very simply, “May I have this?” I assured him that he could have the entire package of material I brought for him. In return, he gave me a medal commemorating my visit and a copy of a small book, Consilio Viam Alere, containing meditations on the decrees of the Second Vatican Council.

I was greatly surprised that he gave me as much time as he did, and also that he took such an obvious interest in Our Sunday Visitor. His father was a Catholic newspaper editor, and I think that had a lot to do with it. He actually talked with me about the paper’s layout and typefaces, which really surprised me.

After that meeting, I reported to the readers of OSV that the pope appeared to be in excellent health. He had a healthy tanned complexion, and he looked much better in person than in pictures. Despite arthritis in his legs, he stood throughout the 15 or 20 minutes, and seemed to be in no hurry to end the audience.

After our discussion about OSV, the pope called the others back for a group photograph and then re-called them for his papal blessing. He continued to hold my hand while expressing his gratitude for publishing his prayer book.

Needless to say, I was greatly impressed by Pope Paul’s friendliness, humility and warmth. They are qualities that many people saw in him, including Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh. I plan to write about his friendship with the pope next week.

Before he became pope, Archbishop Giovanni Montini was Pius XII’s closest adviser and the first cardinal created by John XXIII. As pope, he presided over three sessions of the Second Vatican Council. He also was the most traveled pope in history up to that time.

Paul VI was a great pope who should not be forgotten. †

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