Saint Pope Paul VI’s first feast day is May 29 — celebrate and reflect

Pope Paul VI was certainly not the most popular pope of the 20th century. The two events that marked his pontificate were not short of controversy, debate and rejection: the Second Vatican Council and the publication of Humane Vitae.

And yet, 40 years after his death, priests and faithful will be able to celebrate his memorial for the first time on Wednesday, May 29 — an occasion to reflect on his life and greatest teachings. Although the proper liturgical texts have not been officially translated from the Latin, priests will be able to choose from the “Common of Pastors: For a Pope.”

“Among [the popes], Paul VI shines out as one who united in himself the pure faith of Saint Peter and the missionary zeal of Saint Paul,” Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote in a decree published Jan. 25, 2019.

The future pope, Giovanni Battista Montini was born to a Catholic family Sept. 26, 1897, in Concesio, Italy. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 29, 1920. Pope Francis chose to insert the celebration of Saint Paul VI into the Roman Calendar based on this day.

After his ordination, he worked as a member of the Vatican Secretariat of State under popes Pius XI and Pius XII, and also as a chaplain for Catholic university students.

Cardinal Sarah also asserted that, as the Substitute Secretariat of State, “he worked during the Second World War to find shelter for persecuted Jews and refugees.”

Father Montini was named Archbishop of Milan in 1954 and cardinal in 1958 by Pope John XXIII. He helped the current pope in the preparation of the Second Vatican Council, which he chose to continue after he was elected to the See of Peter in June 1963.

The publication of his last encyclica, Humanae Vitae, in 1968, in which he affirmed Catholic teaching on marriage, sexuality and contraception, was received by some as prophetical and by others as unrealistic and inhumane.

The Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila published a pastoral letter titled The Splendor of Love in February 2018 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, in which he affirmed “the great beauty of the Church’s consistent teaching through the centuries on married love, a love that is so desperately needed today.”

In his letter, the archbishop highlighted the positive and negative developments in the understanding of human sexuality and marriage in the last 50 years; and through Scripture, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and pastoral experience, presented an argument for the truth and beauty that Humanae Vitae offers in marriage and family life.

“[Pope Paul VI] defended the integrity of married love and warned us against the danger of reducing sexuality to a source of pleasure alone,” Archbishop Aquila wrote. “[He] teaches us the truth about married love, listing its four essential qualities: It needs to be fully human, total, faithful, and fruitful.”

He also called all priests and faithful to “share the liberating truth of God’s plan for sexuality… The world and its families need this witness to find lasting happiness.”

“He wished nothing other than the Church would have a greater knowledge of herself in order to be ever more effective in proclaiming the Gospel,” Cardinal Sarah said.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”