Page 10, 7th August 1998

7th August 1998
Page 10
Page 10, 7th August 1998 — Contrasts on the Papal throne

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Locations: Milan, Helsinki, Rome, New York, Venice


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Contrasts on the Papal throne

(Continued from last week)

IN THE year 1963, in the conclave which had now become necessary. the Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista, was, as expected, summoned to be a successor of St Peter and Bishop of Rome.

On the evening before the election, I visited him. He was in the cell next to mine in the conclave section of the Vatican. I remarked: "Tomorrow there will, no doubt, be a two-thirds majority. and the Archbishop of Milan, who held the responsible post of secretary of state in the Vatican for many years, must expect to

be elected." Cardinal Montini, who had already suspected as much, commented with some concern: "Dear God. I very much hope that this will pass from me." Nevertheless the cup did not pass from him.

Paul VI (1963-78) was in every way already a dominant figure in the conclave itself and seemed to be particularly suited to be the successor of John XXIII. Since his predecessor had died after the first session of the Council. the new Pope had to declare whether he would continue with the Council or not. He did so shortly after taking office, stating that he wished the Council to go on as my predecessor started it".

The new Pope had difficult years ahead of him. The postconciliary discussion was concentrated especially on the revision of the liturgy, which had been stimulated by the Council, and the use of the vernacular in church services.

Following his encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Pope, who had been moved by so much in this difficult time there was a need to adapt the leadership of the Church of Europe in the direction of a modem world Church with all the necessary difficult decisions — was one sidedly confirmed in public debate to the topic of the so-called "pill"

These and other matters were a great burden to this sensitive Pope. Hence I always say that the glory of the Council belongs — and rightly so — to John XXIII with his unconditional trust in God's guidance, but the burden of the task and the efforts involved were a heavy cross for the wise. but hesitant and humble. Paul VI. For me. Paul VI remains one of the greater Popes.

His journeys to the Holy Land, to Africa and to the United Nations in New York showed clearly how much was expected worldwide of the Roman Pope even outside the Church.

In the course of his long years of service in the Vatican as secretary of state, he was very well prepared for the office of Pope. His great talents, his modesty and humility, especially in his dealings with bishops, and the burden of responsibility simply extinguished his life after 15 years, practically without illness, as Bishop of Rome and head of the world Church. We took leave of him by his coffin in St Peter's Square. On the coffin lay a large book of the Gospels. and a light breeze leafed through the large book, page by page.

THE next conclave in the year 1978 again elected a northern

Italian. the Patriarch of Venice, Albino Luciani. The name which he chose, John Paul I, was his programme. He has gone down in history as "the smiling Pope.

He was not at all prepared for such an office. I remember that, at the end of the conclave in which he was elected Pope, be said tome: "Actually, I'm a stranger in the Vatican. I don't even know where I can get some lunch now." At this the secretary of state at the time invited him to lunch in his flat.

S°ME 33 days after the papal election, I was in Helsinki, where I had been invited to the university. When my secretary knocked at my door early in the morning and said: "John Paul I is dead," I was initially very distraught and could not believe it.

A French newspaper gave a very good description of what happened:"When his heart comprehended the overwhelming extent of the responsibility which his new office brought with it, it stopped beating."

Yes, that is what must have happened but there was more to it; the new Pope was lonely in the Vatican and the great burden of the great responsibility that had suddenly been placed on him broke his heart. The second conclave of the year 1978. necessitated by the sudden death of John Paul I. was really confronted for the first time with the decision as to whether the new Pope should be an Italian or not. The importance of such considerations had been clearly revealed for the first time in the Council with its perception of the Church as a world Church.

In a conversation immediately before the beginning of the conclave, the great Polish Cardinal Wyszynski replied to my cautious question that the Cardinal of Cracow could not be considered for election to the papacy on account of his youth and the fact that he was little-known.

Yet this was the direction taken by the conclave: to the great surprise of the whole world, the new Pope was a non-Italian and someone from the communist sphere of influence at that. in the tradition of his great predecessors, he took the name John Paul II. From my viewpoint today, the choice of the present Pore was, on account of his natitnality and

his life under the Communists, a break, as it were, in the secuence of Popes.

The new perception olthe Church as a world Church, his endeavour to remain true to the main thrust of the Second Vatican C•ouncil, his interest in ecumenism, his efforts towards contact and dialogue with the Jews. his many long jouneys, his constant emphasis tat people are the way of the Church, that human rights and human dignity, as well as interfaith dialogue, must today save the cause of puce and international unde-standing. All these point to tl-e old. and yet ever new. Gospel of the Church,which not only looks back to the past but also forward to the futur.

What is impsrtant is always the preserati on of the unchangeabe and unifying Gospel if Christ without ignoring thi signsof the times and possnle diversity.

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