Before St. John Paul II became famous for his many international pastoral journeys and his “Theology of the Body” catechesis, Blessed Pope Paul VI (1897-1978, r. 1963-1978) had already been nicknamed the “pilgrim pope” for his historic travels beyond Europe and become a key champion of the defense of human sexuality and life with Humanae Vitae (1968). Celebrating his beatification on October 19, the Church honors Paul VI most fittingly on a Sunday that is both World Mission Sunday and the close of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in the Modern World.
Together with the double papal canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II this past spring, it is also striking to have a third 20th century pontiff raised to the “honor of the altar” as a blessed or saint all in the same year! 2014 seems to be another “Year of Three Popes”–a name traditionally applied to 1978 since three popes held the Chair of St. Peter that year: Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, and Pope John Paul II.
Blessed Pope Paul VI, Missionary Spirituality and World Mission Sunday
His desire to reach out to the modern world led Blessed Paul VI to make apostolic journeys outside of Europe, the first pope to do so in modern history. The wide range of pastoral visits included: Jordan and Israel (1964), Lebanon and India (1964), the United States (1965), Portugal (1967), Turkey (1967), Colombia and Bermuda (1968), Switzerland (1969), Uganda (1969), and a long and intensive journey to Iran, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), Philippines, American Samoa, Samoa, Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Ceylon (1970).
Three of his most important papal documents address the Church and the mission of the Church to bring Christ to the world through the witness of charity, the means of authentic dialog, and the active teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ever-new and fresh ways: Ecclesiam Suam (1964), The Credo of the People of God (1968), Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975). All of these documents have found a significant place in the charism and Constitutions of our Religious Family.
Fr. Carlos Walker, IVE, General Superior of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, dedicated his doctoral dissertation to the study of the development of mission theology in the pontificate of Pope Paul VI. His dissertation is published in the United States by IVE Press under the title Missionary Pope: The Catholic Church and the Positive Elements of Other Religions in the Magisterium of Paul VI.
Our Religious Family has been deeply influenced by the call to the missions as renewed and expressed by St. John XXIII, Bl. Paul VI, and St. John Paul II. (We offer a page about mission spirituality in our Catholic Culture section.)
Finally, the call for an increase in mission spirituality and action throughout the whole Church is the goal of the annual World Mission Sunday. This year, the Pontifical Mission Society is highlighting the “youngest Catholic Church” — the small community of Catholics in Mongolia (see video below).
This Sunday, may the whole Church rejoice in the close of the Synod, the World Mission Sunday, and the beatification of Paul VI! Blessed Paul VI, pray for us!