By a special correspondent
IT was on a cold January
morning in 1955 that Mgr. Giovanni Battista Montini sat in a railway carriage on his way to Milan, a black shawl draped across his knees, and his personal belongings in a single suitcase borrowed from his brother Ludovico.
It is not usual for a man who has served in the Vatican's "foreign office" and diplomatic corps for 30 years to find himself pitchforked into one of Italy's toughest pastoral jobs. When Mgr. Montini became Milan's archbishop. moreover, he was facing one of the toughest, most anti-clerical, and Communist dominated industrial regions of the country.
The Communists were prepared, One of their leaders. Russiantrained Pietro Secchia, told the trade union cadres: "Let the little man come. and we'll show him what we think of him." The instruction went out: "Give Montini the cold shoulder."
The new archbishop accepted the challenge and told his priests: "Don't expect people to listen to the church hells; it's up to you to listen to the factory sirens". He showed what he meant by starting a constant round of visits to car factories. steel works, rubber plants — wherever the workers were.
Ile ordered pastoral visitation of homes. a departure from tradition in Italy. As a champion, to the very end, of the French workerpriests' movement. he sought every possible means of identifying the priest with the life of the working people.
The policy soon began to pay pay off. The thin,-frail archbishop used plain language. aimed at the workers' minds, which he respected. rather than their emotions. His quiet. fatherly manners caught them somewhat off guard.
Even those who held party cards. and who had determined to ignore the new archbishop's outstretched hand, found themselves smiling. nodding agreement. and cv,a kissing his ring. Within a year. elections at the vast Pirelli rubber works showed an increase in the power of the lion-Communist unions, whose vote rose from 33.5 to 41.5 per cent of the total. Mgr. Montini was too much of a realist to claim responsibility for this, but it is beyond doubt that he made a substantial contribution towards it.
These stories give some idea of the man who is being described by all sorts of people, from M. Schuman to the .Sunday Telegraph, as one who has the mind of Pius XII and the heart of John XXIII.
He is an intellectual and an authoritarian. in some ways a man to he a hit afraid of. The sharp. piercing. dark eyes are those of one who is always one move ahead of you. The amletiro story. of dubious origin. does not tie up with the determined jawline.
It is said that the Romans are not wildly enthusiastic about him. probably because. although he was only Pius Xll's deputy in the secretariat of state. he ran it with a very firm hand. As one commentator has said of his future relations with the Curia, "he's got those boys weighed up".
At the same time, there was deep sincerity in his voice when, last Saturday, he expressed "in a special way our esteem for the Roman Curia, whose task, so distinguished and full of responsibilities, is to collaborate at such close quarters with the Vicar of Christ.
"We are certain that its most worthy work will he of genuine assistance to us, for we have for
a long time had direct knowledge of its diligence. its sense of the Church, its prudence in acting, and. together with all the bishops. we appreciated it more especially during the preparatory phase and the actual meeting of the Second Vatican Council."
It was perhaps typical of his blend of authority and diplomacy that he emerged rather as a conciliator behind the Council scenes than as a protagonist on the floor of debate. Nor is it without significance that the Apostle Paul played a similar part at the Council of Jerusalem.
As Archbishop of Milan. Pope Paul showed a side of himself very different from that of his rather stern public image. His chaufleur has said that, far from being reticent and reserved. he "talked all the time" in the car, and, if he
wasn't talking. made everyone recite the rosary aloud as they went along. When the vein of conversation was flowing, however, "you just couldn't stop him".
Though never strong. he has fantastic reserves of energy. His life in Milan was lived at the double. He turned last Saturday's speech out in two and a half hours. Yet he eats sparingly. never drinks. and has never been a smoker. He is reputed to have
said at the weekend that. having become a complete Milanese. he had forgotten the Roman habit of the siesta!
His critics are inclined to think of him as Pius Xlt's "yes mail", and as one who has never been an adventurous innovator.
His job in the Secretariat was not one that lent itself to initiating. so much as to carrying out another man's policy. But there is little doubt that it was he who. in practice, threw the Church's weight behind the Christian Democrats in the 1948 elections against the Communists. and that he had much to do with the rise of Premier De Gasperi.
There are, consequently, those who are a little anxious about his tendency to become involved in political affairs.
In Milan, however, he gave a completely new look to pastoral approaches, and has always keenly encouraged Catholic Action. His emphasis lay heavily on social action and the principles of the social encyclicals. Some of his published discourses on the Church reveal his refusal to see her as a conservative matron, but as a young. dynamic force. constantly in process of renewal.
While sonic have called him antipatico, it is clear that he was immensely popular in Milan as the worker's archbishop, and, despite his unremitting opposition to the Communists. he never failed to insist that they must be, not just fought, but converted.
"Let the incautious and unhappy ones." he said in 1956, "who gather behind Marxism. know that there is Somebody who still loves them. s t r o n g l y immensely. divinely." He wanted the "great crowd of workers to recognise that the Church has always urvierstood. been interested in. supported and defended their needs. and sought to nurture the new and wondrous life hidden in their souls." And he came out strongly for profitsharing for all workers. and the principle of co-management.
Many priests and religious have gone from Milan to Africa. and. 18 months ago. Cardinal Montini himself went to Northern Rhodesia and Nigeria to see for himself. He gave an index at the weekend of his attitudes to this work when he spoke of the Church's missionaries as "the apple of his eye". It may be a fair assessment to say that Pope John lAyst upon history like a vast explosion. and that now the work of Pope Paul will be to channel and develop the forces thus let loose. giving them strong institutional form. The new Pope. however, is one of the leading champions of the ecumenical movement, an aspect of his outlook which is generally little known. Few people, for instance. seem to know much about his action in sheltering an Anglican clergyman in his Archbishop's House in Milan.
He will probably move with more measured tread. and less spontaneity. than his predecessor. but the Church has always had her own built-in system of spurs and checks to operate her evolutionary development.
The open arms and wide embrace of Pope John will now give way to the loving but closely reasoned approach of an urbane personality, with a hard mind and a soft heart. He may prove to be an inspiration to the trade union movement and to the development of democratic structures where they do not at present exist.
He is remembered for his practical cooperation in the setting up of the Vatican's wartime bureau of missing personnel and for much hard work in connection with the Holy Sees' wartime welfare services. Ilis reference to backward countries, in his first address as Pope. was characteristic of the direction his thinking takes.
He will work out the practical implications of his predecessor's inspirations, but this will he no mere law-giver. He is a man who knows the ways of the world, and how the handle them. Rut the past eight years have proved his worth as a shepherd of his flock.