December 2, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

20th-century Church: Pope Paul and Father Ted Hesburgh

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

Last week, I interrupted my series about the 20th-century Church to write about Blessed Pope Paul VI, and my meeting with him. For you to get to know him even better, I want to devote this column to the special friendship between Pope Paul and Holy Cross Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, who was president of the University of Notre Dame during the pontiff’s time as bishop of Rome.

They got to know one another while Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul, was Pope Pius XII’s secretary of state and Father Ted was the Holy See’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The friendship deepened in 1960 when Father Ted invited Cardinal Montini, when he was archbishop of Milan, to give the baccalaureate sermon at Notre Dame. President Dwight Eisenhower gave the commencement address.

Father Ted spent a lot of time with Cardinal Montini that weekend. He also arranged for Cardinal Montini and Eisenhower to meet.

When they did, the cardinal gave Eisenhower a block of marble with a bronze angel holding several severed chains. At the base of the statue was a quote that said, “He took the chains from their midst.” Cardinal Montini said that the statuette was symbolic of what Eisenhower had done for Europe, and he said, “You freed us, and we are deeply grateful.”

Three year later, Cardinal Montini was elected Pope Paul VI.

In 1965, Pope Paul asked Father Ted to stop and see him while on his way to Paris for a meeting of the International Federation of Catholic Universities, of which Father Ted was president. During lunch, the pope said that he had long dreamed of a place where Christian theologians could study and live together as they were doing in Rome during the Second Vatican Council.

Then, he said, during his trip to the Holy Land in 1964, he met with Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras. After that meeting, he decided that Jerusalem would be the ideal place for an ecumenical center, and he asked Father Ted to build it.

Father Ted went to Jerusalem and eventually found the ideal spot—35 acres on a hill at the border of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Vatican bought the property and leased it to the University of Notre Dame for $1 a year. Today, the Ecumenical Center of Tantur continues to attract students and theologians. I studied there for three months in 1997.

Pope Paul and Father Ted spent many pleasant evenings having dinner and then watching space movies, which the pope enjoyed and Father Ted provided. On one of those occasions, the pope surprised Father Ted with a huge birthday cake. Then a waiter brought a bottle of bourbon, the pope saying, “Now we’re going to have an American drink.”

The pope filled a tumbler and handed it to Father Ted. Father Ted told him that it was plain to see that he didn’t know about bourbon. “If I were to drink this, someone would have to carry me out of here.”

Father Ted devoted 15 pages to his friendship with Pope Paul in his autobiography God, Country, Notre Dame. †

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