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from issue no. 07 - 2003

Pope Paul, thank you!


On 14 June, in Sotto il Monte, a round-table organized by the mayor was held on Pacem in terris, with the participation of Professor Agostino Giovagnoli and Senator Giulio Andreotti. Here is the text of the speech given by Monsignor Loris Capovilla who is the affectionate on-the-spot guardian of the memory of Pope John


by Loris Francesco Capovilla


Loris Francesco Capovilla

Loris Francesco Capovilla

The year 2003 is the 40th anniversary of the election of Paul VI and the vigorous re-start of the course of Vatican II. It is also the anniversary of other notables events; the 25th anniversary of Paul’s death (his consigning himself to the Father, after 15 years as pope) on the night of the Transfiguration; it is also the 25th of the assassination of Aldo Moro, who was bound to him from the youth with the closest ties of the faith, in generous and far-seeing commitment to the all-conquering apostolate; the 40th of the tragic death of John Kennedy, the president of the United States who, having paid attention to the social doctrine of the Church, dreamed of resolving local and international controversies by means of the “Alliance for progress”.
Unforgettable events against the background of the two millennia of the Church down to Roncalli’s fifteen year period, which ended on 3 June 1963 in the fire of Pentecost; reconnected 18 days later on the election of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who presented himself to the world with the emblematic name of Paul.
We are thankful to Albino Luciani who, on 26 August 1978, went along with the inspiration to bind the two preceding pontificates together in his person. He decided in fact to call himself John Paul I, a name that still resounds in the universal Church, adopted as his own by the Pope from Krakow.
Angelo Giuseppe from Sotto il Monte and Giovanni Battista from Concesio, educated according to the rigid canons of the Tridentine reform, nourished by the solid Lombard-Venetian pietas cultivated close relations of collaboration in the service of the Holy See, with something more added, as prophetically attested by Roncalli in a letter to Montini, sent on the day of his consecration as bishop: «We shall perform together the sacramentum Christi voluntatis of Saint Paul (Eph 1,9-10). It imposes the adoration of the cross, but it reserves for us, along with it, a source of ineffable comfort even down here, while life and our pastoral mandate last. Dear and venerable Excellence, I don’t know how to say more. But what is lacking to make a lengthier speech, read in my heart» (12 December 1954).
The election of John XXIII to the papacy has had varied and reliable interpretations, not always free of objections. Undoubtedly those who believe in the aid of the Holy Spirit, are not surprised by anything, least of all by the age of the man called, and often they rejoice; but even those who hesitate, biased by a reductive vision of the divine reality of the Church, are convinced that that election honored a biblical man, “wholesome and righteous, he feared God and was unknown to evil” (Job 1,1), his ecclesiastical shrewdness, his courageous openness toward “new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwell” (2 Peter 3,13).
Giovanni Battista Montini understood all this, and more already, by 28 October 28 1958, on the announcement of the Habemus Papam. His last writings as cardinal, collected in the precious volume John XXIII in the mind and heart of his Successor (Tipolitografia Germani, Milan 1964) testify to it. The dedication, on the copy set aside for me, enables on to imagine deep affection and delighted wishes: «To Monsignor Loris Capovilla associating his to our remembrance of Pope John XXIII, and our blessing to that of the late-lamented and venerated Pontiff on the first anniversary of his pious death. Paulus PP VI, 3 June 1964».
I remember the individual moments of the last days of the venerable Father. Cardinal Montini, through the Archbishop Angelo Dell’Acqua, substitute of the Secretariat of State, kept himself informed of the situation and the Pope, learning of it, appreciated his presence and repaid this exquisite goodness with expressions that gave a glimpse of future days and referred to the delightful conversation he had, as patriarch of Venice, with his own cousins Giovanni and Candida Roncalli from Milan: «Look what’s happened to your cousin here: bishop, representative of the Pope in the Middle East, nuncio to Paris, Patriarch of Venice. All he’s missing now is the Papacy, but that’s out of the question, because the next pope will be you Archbishop Montini».
At the unexpected worsening of the illness assailing the Pope, towards the conclusion of the first session of the Council, Cardinal Montini, on the point of returning to his see, wrote me: «Most venerable Monsignor. Saint Ambrose calls me to Milan, and the presence of the President of the Republic forces me to leave. But in what state of mind you can imagine! This morning I was in Saint Peter’s square: I could have cried with consolation and hope. I leave also with you, Monsignor, my sincerest good wishes, confirmed by fervent prayer for what we both carry in our heart, the Pope, the Church, the Council, the world! Yours most devotedly in Christ. Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini» (5 December 1962).
The note, which moved John XXIII, was like a balm of comfort to my heart and accompanied me throughout the first five months of 1963, during alarming and troubling days.
On 31 Friday May, when the announcement that the Pope had fulfilled in exemplary fashion the requirements of the Coeremoniale episcoporum, received the sacraments and taken his leave with a twenty minute homily, the Cardinal of Milan departed immediately, along with the Roncallis from Sotto il Monte. He says so himself in a letter dated from Rome: «I made the journey by plane with the three brothers and with the sister of the Holy Father, simple and admirable people, summoned to say their last farewells to their brother the Supreme Pontiff. ... We cry, we pray, we wait in immense strain of spirit, but with an unspeakable feeling in our hearts, almost of beauty and of victory. What a luminous closure to earthly life, what an augury for the heavenly one» (31 May 1963).
In my memory, warmed by gratitude, everything is summed up in the two conversations I had with Giovanni Battista Montini the night of 31 May and the afternoon of 21 June: in the same room next to the window of the Angelus, standing, with the same person, wearing a black cassock the first time, then with the white cassock. I shall say no more than the essential, maintaining my role in the shade, satisfied with safeguarding the secret that is gift and vocation: «My secret is for me» (Is 24,16 Vulg), Pope John was wont to repeat. That evening, a few feet from the bed of the dying man, Cardinal Montini reminded me of his first epistolary contact with the newly appointed Archbishop Roncalli, dated 2 March 1925, and their most recent and last private conversation: «This man had the gift of ridding your mind of turmoil». He took the opportunity to congratulate the Secretariat of State, Vatican Radio, L’Osservatore Romano for having raised the report of the pope’s dying to the highest heaven of faith and hope, so much so that an anonymous voice from across the ocean had said: «After showing us how to live the goodly life, this Pope is now offering the example of goodly dying».
Eighteen days later, on the afternoon of his election, Paul wanted to see me. I keep to myself some words that concern me (spoken to me no longer by the Archbishop of Milan, but by the Pope) and report the more sublime confidence on which he didn’t set the seal of confidence: «I accepted election so as to continue the work set going by Pope John, surely guided from above».
This was his inner feeling, his conviction, his trust. Nothing merely human. He believed that God uses men for his workings; or (to quote the title of a celebrated film): God has need of men.
In the mid 20th century, to make explicit the insights of previous popes, in particular Benedict XV, and to expand them, God brought from the furrows of the Bergamo countryside, and five years later from the fertile humus of Brescia, the two agents of the “new leap forward”, aimed at «recovering from the beginning, with new interest, with calm and unruffled mind, all Christian doctrine, in its entirety, with the limpid precision in concepts and terminology in which the Acts of the Council of Trent and Vatican I garbed it, so as to make it better known and inform minds of it» (Opening discourse of Vatican II, 11 October 1962).
It often happens that we share in the lament of helmsmen in stormy seas, troubled and afraid. Pope John, led by the prophetic voice: «Who believes will not waver» (Is 28,16), in the course of his long life, despite the opposition of men and of the elements, revealed that his faith was fed by the most steadfast faith: «My serenity of mind as humble servant of the Lord draws continual inspiration from that; it doesn’t have origin in a lack of knowledge of men and history and doesn’t close its eyes in front of reality. It is a serenity that comes from God, the most wise disposer of human vicissitudes» (17 March 1963).
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, Archbishop of Milan, welcoming Pope John at the entrance of the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart,  5 November1961

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, Archbishop of Milan, welcoming Pope John at the entrance of the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, 5 November1961

Montini, the first cardinal he created, understood this to the point of declaiming it, as only he knew how, with an oratorical flair worthy of an anthology, when presenting to the Pope four thousand Milanese pilgrims come ad Petri cathedram: «In a world that seems to aspire to nothing else, as supreme conquest of the efforts and progresses of its civilization, than to feel united in the organization of its most modern services, in the development of its scientific culture, in the security of its peaceful coexistence, whereas it trembles instead, and precisely in recent days, to the point of fear at the growing dangers, created and unleashed by itself, to its social arrangement, to its safety and its peace, it is supreme comfort for these pilgrims, it is supreme hope to gather themselves and their thoughts in this fortunate hour around you, O Vicar of Christ, O Father of universal brotherhood, Teacher of a truth that does not fail and does not waver, Shepherd intent on making men good and making them friends; so that from you, Holiness and Holy Father, gifts much greater than those brought by us, for ourselves, for the Lombardy dioceses, for all the people and works dear to us, we now await: your word and your blessing» (4 November 1961).
That was how Paul VI saw John XXIII. Now that’s how we see him: father, teacher, shepherd, and we are grateful to him for having thrown light on the monument to his predecessor, conceived by Emilio Greco, «dedicated to the memory and love of a Pope who had the singular privilege, to an uncommon degree, of getting himself loved»: «The words come spontaneously back to mind that rose from my heart when in the cathedral of Milan, on the feast of Pentecost 1963, while the fading of John XXIII was keeping the whole Church and the world in anxiety and prayer: “Blessed be this Pope who has enabled us to enjoy an hour of paternity and of spiritual familiarity, and who has taught us and the world that mankind has no greater need than that of love”. He loved and was loved; and just as this monument portrays Pope John in the attitude of his manifold apostolic love, so it means to be the sign that this love has been understood and to that fatherly love our filial love responds» (28 June 1967).
Here the pen halts, while the heart beats faster, and we feel the irrepressible impulse to repeat for Paul VI the singular eulogy composed by him for John, indebted to them both for being urged to jealously safeguard the treasure of the faith, to spend our days in the communion of the saints, trusting above all in the intercession of the Mother of Jesus, to work indefatigably for the freedom and the salvation of every individual human creature, to move towards the new in harmonious connection with the tradition.
Two names, two destinies, two lives of sacrifice, a single love: Christ, the Church, mankind.


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