By: David O'Neill
On February 6, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Pope Paul VI. The approval of the second miracle was the last step in the process of his canonization—all that is left is for Pope Francis to officially decree his approval and set a date.
Pope Paul VI, previously Giovanni Battista Montini, was born in 1897 in Concesio. Growing up, Montini had multiple health issues, so much of his education was done at home. Montini was ordained in 1920 after four years of seminary education, with a doctorate in Canon Law. Following his ordination and more studies, he entered diplomatic service for the Holy See.
In 1953, he declined an invitation from the Venerable Pope Pius XII to be named a Cardinal. In 1954, Montini was appointed Archbishop of Milan by Pius XII. Pope Saint John XIII elevated him to the Sacred College of Cardinals—which this time he did not decline.
As Archbishop, Montini spoke out in favor of better working conditions and compensation. Additionally, he had more than 100 churches built in his diocese. He challenged Catholics to love Protestants and non-Christians and exchanged letters with the head of the Anglican Church, Geoffrey Fisher. Following the death of Saint John XIII only one year after he opened the Second Vatican Council, Montini was elected pope on June 21, 1963, taking the name Paul.
Pope Paul VI is famous for implementing Church reform during and following the Second Vatican Council. Amongst his reforms was the promulgation of the revised Mass in 1969—the first major reform to the liturgy of the Roman Rite since the Tridentine Mass 400 years prior following the Council of Trent. These reforms allowed for wider use of the vernacular within the liturgy, permitted the orientation of the priest to be towards the people rather than towards the tabernacle, and increased the usage of scripture within the Mass—amongst other changes.
In response to the Council, reforms included the establishment of National Bishops Conferences, reformation of the Roman Curia to include Bishops from around the world and increased interreligious dialogue. He defended traditional teaching regarding the Eucharist and had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In his first encyclical, Ecclessiam suam (“His Church”) he wrote that “devotion to the Mother of God is of paramount importance in living the life of the Gospel.”
He is also famous for his defense of traditional sexual ethics, particularly relating to contraception. In his 1968 encyclical Humane Vitae (“Of Human Life”), he re-affirmed the Church’s perennial teaching that contraception is a grave moral evil. He spoke out against the large numbers of priests and religious who left their vocations following the Second Vatican Council and firmly defended the practice of priestly celibacy.
He was the first pope to visit six continents and was the first reigning pope to visit Africa. He devoted much of his papacy to the spread of peace. On August 6th, 1978 he died of a heart attack following Sunday Mass at the Castel Gondolfo.
Paul VI’s cause for beatification opened under Pope Saint John Paul II in 1993, and he was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 for living a life of heroic virtue. Because of his reputation for affirming the sanctity of life and the proper role of sexuality, the two miracles attributed to him are particularly unique.
The first miracle occurred in California in the 1990s. Doctors advised a mother to abort her unborn child after they discovered the child had a damaged bladder, absence of fluid in the amniotic sac, liquid in the abdomen, and a high risk of brain damage. A nun who was a friend of the mother recommended that she entrust her pregnancy to Paul VI, and ten weeks later medical tests showed miraculous improvements in the child’s health. Her son was born by C-section and is healthy. Following a ruling that the healing is medically unexplainable by a medical commission, the Vatican deemed the healing to be a “supernatural intervention.” Pope Francis confirmed the miracle and beatified Paul VI in 2014.
Following his beatification, a woman in Italy was advised to abort her daughter after she was diagnosed with an illness that threatened the life of the mother and the child. The woman prayed for Pope Paul VI’s intercession after hearing about the first miracle, and her daughter was born healthy.
In a meeting with the priests of the Diocese of Rome on February 15, Pope Francis said, “Paul VI will be a saint this year”. La Voce del Popolo, the newspaper of Paul VI’s home diocese reports that the canonization will likely happen in the month of October while the Synod of Bishops—a group restored by Pope Paul VI—meets in Rome to discuss young people and vocations.