Paul VI, first pope to visit Philippines, to be beatified soon

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Pope Paul VI. AFP FILE PHOTO

ROME — After canonizing Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, the Holy See is now looking into beatifying Pope Paul VI, possibly as early as October when bishops from around the world meet in the Vatican for the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Raising Paul VI to the status of “blessed” has become a strong possibility after medical and theological experts reportedly approved as a miracle a United States case in the 1990s involving a fetus with brain damage whose mother had refused physicians’ advice that it be aborted. After reportedly praying to the late Pope, the mother gave birth to the child, who grew up healthy and normal.

According to the Italian weekly magazine Credere of the Pauline Fathers, cardinals and bishops who are members of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints will meet on May 5 to confirm the miracle.

Once the bishops and cardinals approve the miracle, Pope Francis will likely proclaim Paul VI’s beatification in October at the end of the Synod of Bishops, according to Credere.

One of only three co-chairpersons appointed by Pope Francis to preside over the synod is Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

Pope from 1963 to 1978, Paul VI promulgated the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which St. John XXIII called in 1962, and issued the controversial encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” reaffirming the Church’s teaching against abortion and contraception.

Paul VI has special relevance to the Philippines, as he was the first pope to visit the country—in 1970, when an attempt on his life was made at the Manila International Airport.

Earlier, according to another Italian magazine, Vatican Insider, medical experts said there was no scientific explanation for the US case and theological experts of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican agency in charge of beatification and canonization, approved it as a miracle.

Credere said the miracle attributed to Paul VI involved a case in California in which a fetus was in a critical condition due to complications during the 24th week of the pregnancy and doctors predicted the baby would die inside the mother’s womb.

“The diagnosis was severe,” the magazine reported. “The baby would probably die inside the uterus, or at best, would be born with seriously damaged kidneys.”

Doctors recommended abortion, but instead the mother reportedly placed an image of Pope Paul VI and a relic from his vestments on her stomach and began praying to him.

Inexplicably, the baby was born healthy in the 39th week of the mother’s pregnancy. Doctors, Credere reported, closely monitored the child’s health, particularly its kidneys, until age 12.

In 2003, the Vatican launched an inquiry into the case and medical experts officially confirmed last year that the child’s recovery had no scientific or medical explanation, Credere said.

Born in 1897 in a small town in the northern Italian province of Brescia, Giovanni Battista Montini was cardinal archbishop of Milan before he was elected to succeed John XXIII in 1963.

Pope Paul VI implemented the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and before John Paul II, became the most traveled Pope in history, earning him the title “Pilgrim Pope.”

He was the first pope to leave Italy since 1809 and the first pope to visit North America, Asia and Africa. He also pressed on with the ecumenical spirit unleashed by the Second Vatican Council and met with leaders of the Orthodox, Anglican and non-Catholic Christian churches. He was the fist pope to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the first pope to address the United Nations General Assembly during his US visit in 1965.

Paul VI made a pastoral visit to the Philippines in 1970, the first by an incumbent pope to the then only Christian nation in Asia. But the visit was marred right at his arrival at the Manila International Airport on Nov. 20 when a Bolivian surrealist painter, Benjamin Mendoza y Amor Flores, lunged at him with a 33-centimeter knife. The Pope’s personal secretary, Msgr. Pasquale Macchi, broke the attack by grabbing Mendoza and throwing him to the ground. Philippine security officers then subdued and arrested Mendoza.

Paul VI wrote eight encyclicals that reaffirmed the real presence in the Holy Eucharist (“Mysterium Fidei”) and mandatory clerical celibacy (“Sacerdotalis Caelibatus”), and restated the social teachings of the Church on peace, justice, and development (“Populorum Progressio”).

But his most controversial encyclical was “Humanae Vitae” (Of Human Life). Subtiled “On the Regulation of Birth” and issued in 1968, it met a storm of protest and criticism from the secular and liberal media in Europe and the United States and even from Catholic circles for restating the traditional ban on contraception.

Paul VI said he was not surprised by the reaction. “In 20 years,” he told a cardinal, “they’ll call me a prophet.”

In 1978, he reaffirmed the teaching of “Humanae Vitae,” and papal biographers have since noted that controversies over his restatements of mandatory clerical celibacy and the Church’s staunch ban on contraception overshadowed the last years of his pontificate.

In his 1993 biography of Paul VI, British Vatican journalist Peter Hebblethwaite called the late pontiff “The First Modern Pope.”

Paul VI was declared “Servant of God” by Pope John Paul II in 1993 and “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

The canonization of well-loved Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27 has increased public interest in other popes who are on the path to sainthood.

Other popes whose causes for sainthood may have been given a push because of the euphoria over the joint papal canonization last week are Blessed Pius IX, the longest serving pontiff in history (1846-1878); Venerable Pius XII, the predecessor of St. John XXIII, and “Servant of God” John Paul I, who was succeeded by St. John Paul II.

Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti; 1792-1878) was beatified along with John XXIII by John Paul II in 2000. He was the last sovereign of Rome and the Papal States that fell completely to Giuseppe Garibaldi and the nationalist armies in 1870. He defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1848 and called the First Vatican Council in 1868, which defined papal infallibility and the divine inspiration of the Bible.

Pius XII (Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli; 1876-1958) was pope from 1939 to 1958 and thus guided the Church through the very difficult years of World War II. A skillful diplomat, he opposed communism and while the Vatican was neutral during the war, condemned race-based killings and aided Italian Jews. But some sectors of the media and popular culture have accused him of silence and inaction in the face of the mass slaughter of Jews.

Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have defended the record of Pius XII. Paul VI opened the process for his canonization in 1965 during the final session of the Second Vatican Council. John Paul II in 1990 made him a “Servant of God,” the first step to sainthood, and Benedict XVI in 2009 declared him “Venerable.”

John Paul I (Albino Luciani; 1912-1978) was one of the shortest reigning popes in history. As patriarch of Venice like John XXIII, he was elected on Aug. 25, 1978, to succeed Paul VI and became the first pope to adopt a double name, as a tribute, he said, to John XXIII and Paul VI, who made him cardinal.

But he died a month later, on Sept. 28, 1978. A conclave soon after elected Karol Wojtyla from Poland, who, in recognition of his predecessor, chose the name “John Paul II.” Hebblethwaite called the improbable transition as “The Year of the Three Popes.”

Although he reigned for only a month, John Paul I immediately captivated the world for his charming smile, winning simplicity, and paternal warmth.

In 1990, Brazilian bishops petitioned Pope John Paul II to declare him a saint, opening his canonization process.

The joint canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II by Pope Francis in the presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on April 27 was billed as “the day of the four popes” by the Italian media and occasioned the biggest religious gathering in the European continent, with at least a million people packing St. Peter’s Square and surrounding areas.

“Their causes of canonization were completed around the same period, so it is appropriate that they be canonized together … in the presence of two popes: Francis and Benedict XVI,” said Fr. Gregory Ramon Gaston, rector of the Pontificio Collegio Filippino.

Despite the popularity of the canonization among Catholics worldwide and the financial windfall it has reaped for the ailing Italian economy, some sectors of the media have criticized the canonization process for having been hastened for the two popes, who have their own partisans.

John XXIII (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, 1881-1963) is held up by progressive Catholics and the liberal media as a modern pope for having called the Second Vatican Council, which sought to modernize the Church. In contrast, John Paul II is portrayed as a conservative for having helped crush communism in Eastern Europe and upholding traditional Church teachings on sex and family and other contentious issues; he is criticized in liberal sectors for allegedly setting back the Church and checking the reforms of Vatican II.

Liberal Catholics and the media criticized Pope Benedict XVI when he waived the requirement for the mandatory five-year observance of any candidate for sainthood who died of natural causes. “In recent causes, the petition must be presented no sooner than five years after the death of the Servant of God,” declares the “Divinus Perfectionis Magister,” the 1983 apostolic constitution that refined the canonization process.

Ironically, the charter was issued by Pope John Paul II himself.

Benedict XVI beatified his predecessor in 2011, only six years after John Paul II’s death.

But Catholics who championed John Paul II’s canonization criticized the Holy See for waiving the second miracle required of a candidate for sainthood so that John XXIII could be proclaimed saint immediately like the Polish pope.

Pope Francis waived the requirement, saying that John XXIII’s important role in calling the Second Vatican Council was enough to merit him sainthood. He also set the canonization of the two popes together as an “inclusive” gesture to unite both progressive and conservative strands of the Church.

Despite the alleged fast-tracking of their causes, John XXIII and John Paul II became only the fourth and fifth popes of the second millennium to be declared saints. Other pope saints of the last 1,000 years are Celestine V of the 13th century, Pius V of the 16th century, and Pius X, who was canonized 60 years ago.

Fr. Pedro Luis Gonzalez, a retired professor at the Angelicum in Rome and former dean of theology of the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila, said the joint canonization should not be seen as either hastening or retiring further the canonization process.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a new policy of either speeding up or slowing down the process,” said Gonzalez, who’s now prior of the Blessed Trinity Church religious community of Spanish Dominicans in Rome’s fashionable Via Condotti district near the Spanish Steps. A pope traditionally visits the church on Dec. 8, when he pays tribute to the nearby memorial to the Immaculate Conception.

But Gonzalez said he welcomed the fact that the joint canonization has renewed interest in the causes of other papal candidates for sainthood.

He described the causes of Pius XII and Paul VI as “certainly a good idea,” as they were “extraordinary figures who have been misunderstood.” Warts and all, he called the pope candidates as “holy men who led the Church through difficult times.”

“Holiness and heroic virtues are the main requirements for sainthood,” Gonzalez said.

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