ON MONDAY Pope Paul VI will have completed his first two years in what one Protestant commentator has called the "most difficult job in Christendom".
In this comparatively brief span, Pope Paul--characterised by Maurice Schumann, the French Catholic intellectual, as combining "the intellectual clarity of Pope Pius XII" with "the purity of heart of Pope John XXIII" — has given astonishing new breadth and depth to the Papal role.
He has steered the Church into uncharted ecumenical waters, brought it into promising new contacts with the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox faiths, laid the groundwork for dialogues with the non-Christian religions—even with atheists and agnostics—and scored a diplomatic triumph in the signing of a limited Vatican agreement with a • Communist government.
At the same time, the 67-yearold Paul VI has stirred the imagination of the world by becoming the first reigning Pope to travel by aeroplane or helicopter, to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and to visit India, the only non-Christian country ever to welcome a Roman Pontiff.
On top of all this, Pope Paul has, repeatedly spoken out on behalf of international peace, approved far-reaching changes in the Church's liturgical life, increased membership in the College of Cardinals to a record number of 103, and dramatically stressed the role of the laity in the Church by naming laymen and women as auditors at the Second Vatican Council.
To the Church's great army ee of nuns, he will be remembered
especially as the Pope who first gave them, too, seats at a Council.
From the beginning of his reign, Pope Paul made it clear that he intended to carry out the wishes of his predecessor, John XXIII, both for an aggiornameta() in the Church and an expansion of its impact on the modern world.
Preaching a eulogy shortly after the death of the universally beloved John, the then Giovanni Battista Montini, Archbishop of Milan, declared: "Death cannot stifle the spirit which he has infused into our era. Can we turn away from the paths so masterfully traced? It seems to me that we cannot."
At his coronation Mass, Pope Paul pledged that his pontificate would he devoted to international peace, Christian unity and the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council started by his predecessor. It is a pledge he has well lived up to.
Although John XXIII will be remembered as the father of Vatican II, it has been Paul VI's role to translate the former's blueprint for aggiornamenio into reality. Thus. among the monuments of his pontificate are Council decrees of immense importance to the Church.
They include, besides the revolutionary Constitution on the Liturgy, the history-making decree on the Nature of the Church which formally defined the collegiality of the Bishops and their partnership with the Pope in the government of the Church. Also, the Decree on Ecumenism which constituted an official endorsement of the ecumenical movement and set forth principles and criteria to be followed by Catholics in the dialogue with those outside the fold; and the Constitution on the Catholic Oriental Churches, which, among other things, opened the way to some intercommunion with the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
On his own authority, Pope Paul proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary as the "Mother of the Church", and shortened from three hours to one the period the faithful must fast before receiving Holy Communion.
Of all spiritual leaders the most often heard pleading for peace among the nations, Pope Paul offered the Church's mediating offices in settling international disputes when he issued his first encyclicalEccIesiam S110171 (His Church)— in August, 1964. A year before he had hailed the nuclear energy test ban treaty signed in Moscow by the United States, Britain and Russia as "a token of goodwill, a pledge of concord, a promise of a more serene future".
When he made his Holy Land pilgrimage in January, 1964, he sent 220 peace messages to heads of states and international leaders. This year he made special peace appeals as new political crises erupted in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.
During his visit to India the following December for the 38th International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay, he urged creation by developed nations of a "great world fund" to combat hunger and poverty everywhere. In his first Christmas message, he described hunger as "the most serious problem confronting the world", Pope Paul's Holy Land pilgrimage and his meeting in Jerusalem with Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras was easily one of the top ecumenical events of the century. Not for more than 500 years had a Roman Pontiff embraced, con versed with, and prayed with the "first among equals" of all the Orthodox prelates.
This was only one of Pone Paul's many gestures to the world's 200 million Orthodox believers in the prayerful hope of their eventual reunion with Rome. In July, 1963. he sent a personal envoy to celebrations in Moscow marking the 50th anniversary of the episcopal consecration of Patriarch Alexce supreme head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In March of the following year, he was officially represented at the enthronement of Metropolitan Athenagoras of Thyateira as the new head of the Orthdox community in Great Britain.
To the Vatican came many Orthodox dignitaries who were warmly received by Pope Paul. In return a number of top Curia officials were welcomed in Istanbul by Patriarch Athenagoras, whom Paul had saluted as his "dear brother in Christ".
In a special gesture of friendship towards the Orthodox, Pope Paul restored to the Orthodox diocese of Patras, Greece, an historic relic of St. Andrew the Apostle which had been seized by Crusaders and brought to the Cathedral of Amalfi, Italy. Last March, it was announced he was planning to restore to a Greek Orthodox monastery near Jerusalem the relics of St. Sabbas, who founded the sanctuary in the fifth century, and to the Orthodox community in Crete, the preserved head of St. Titus, one of the favourite disciples of St. Paul, who was the first Bishop of Crete.
Pope Paul's ecumenical hand has been extended also not only to Protestant churchmen, but also to Jewish, Moslem and Buddhist leaders who have been received in papal audience. On Pentecost Sunday, 1964, the Pope announced the formation of a new Vatican Secretariat for non-Christians which would deal with other religions in "loyal and respectful dialogue" and in "absolute sincerity".
Last April saw the Pope add yet another challenging dimension to the dialogue by creating the Vatican Secretariat for NonBelievers. He had foreshadowed this move by clearly intimating in Ecclesiam Suam the possibility of a dialogue with professed atheists, saying: "We do not despair that they may one day be able to enter into a more positive dialogue with the Church than the present one we now of necessity deplore and lament."
Earlier in his first Easter message, the Pope had made a special appeal to atheists to "judge for themselves that they are labouring under the weight of irrational dogmas".