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Montini

· Special edition on the 50th anniversary of the election ·

Giovanni Battista Montini was elected pope on 21 June 1963. In the late morning of that summer day, St Peter’s Square was bathed in sunlight when the white smoke rose into the blue sky. The man elected, the first cardinal of John XXIII , had been expected but not taken for granted. The surprise came in the name he chose; that of the last of the Apostles who, more than anyone else, preached the Gospel. And this was the centre of Montini’s life, that he himself perceived as “an interrupted path” with the constant thought of being a witness of Christ in the modern world.

Fascinated by monastic life, the priest from Brescia was instead destined for a path perhaps more arduous. For more than 30 years, under two pontiffs, different from one another but both great, Montini served the Holy See in the heart of the Roman Curia and became a key figure. For eight years he was Archbishop of Milan, the largest diocese in the world, and for 15 years Successor of Peter with the name of Paul.

Half a century after the beginning of his decisive pontificate L’Osservatore Romano turns to this protagonist, far off in time and all too often forgotten, with a biography, rare photos and a selection of marvelous texts. In the final text, celebrating the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul, the Pope takes stock of his pontificate which lasted 15 years and was exciting and dramatic at the same time: from the time of the Council to its first application, patiently and persistently sowing the seed which is still to bear fruit.

Both traditional and modern, Montini sought out contemporary humanity his entire life, holding out his hand to shake the hands of others, as an equal which can be seen in his televised audiences. His open hand was precisely a symbol of the recently-deceased Pope which his last Cardinal chose to discuss. So it was that Joseph Ratzinger, in an unpublished homily on the Transfiguration, captured Paul VI’s most profound being, foreseeing — without knowing it — the future now revealed.

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