Mabasa Sasa, in ROME, Italy
PRESIDENT Mugabe and First Lady Cde Grace Mugabe yesterday joined political and religious leaders and 70,000 other Roman Catholics at a double mass here that marked the end of the Third Extraordinary Synod of Bishops and the beatification of Paul VI by Pope Francis.
Although the crowd was significantly smaller than the 800,000 people who witnessed Pope Francis’ canonisations of John XXIII and John Paul II in April, the celebration of the man known as “the forgotten Pope” was certainly not muted.
For long, many had argued that Paul VI was not lesser to his predecessor, John XXIII, or his successor John Paul II, and yesterday he moved a step closer to Catholic sainthood.
Pope Francis said it was befitting that the beatification of Blessed Paul VI was coming on the day the extraordinary synod ended, seeing as he established this global conference of bishops in 1965 and had “rendered to God what is God’s’ by devoting his whole life to the sacred, solemn and grave task of continuing in history and extending on Earth the mission of Christ”, loving the church and leading her so that she might be “a loving mother of the whole human family and at the same time the minister of its salvation”.
Pope Francis said, “When we look at this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we can’t but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks! Thank you our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his church.
“. . . before the advent of a secularised and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and trust in the Lord.”
The beatification of Blessed Paul VI, which once more brought him to global attention, and close of the synod, had another interesting parallel with his first entry into the limelight.
Just as his encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ grabbed headlines in 1968 as it closed the Second Vatican Council with him steadfastly reaffirming opposition to abortion and birth control contrary to the counsel of most of his advisors, the Extraordinary Synod closed with bishops refusing to accept gays into the church, in addition to also barring divorcees and remarried people from the congregation.
Bishops will discuss these issues again next year.
As the direction the church will take will continue to be discussed, other eyes will be on Blessed Paul VI’s likely canonisation in the future.
For one to become a saint, the church verifies two miracles and considers an individual’s lifelong commitment to cardinal and biblical virtues.
Beatification is the third stage in the four-step process.
In 1993, Paul VI was honoured as Servant of God, with the next stage coming in 2012 when the church elevated him to Venerable.
In May this year, Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to Paul VI (healing of an unborn child), setting the stage for his elevation yesterday to “Blessed” – one step away from sainthood.
To be canonised, the church would need to confirm another miracle, though previously some of these requirements have been waived.
Paul VI was born in 1896 and was one of a few people elected pope without having been a cardinal. He turned down that appointment although he did serve as Archbishop of Milan, Italy’s biggest diocese.
Blessed Paul VI was the first Pope to visit Africa, and also sought to improve Catholic ties with the Eastern Orthodox Church and Protestant denominations.