Saturday, August 13, 2005

An Enduring Affection

The Justin Rigali scholar in me has always known that, of all the Popes who've marked his life, Paul VI was his favorite. I know my cardinal-archbishop to be, at heart, a Pauline progressive deeply committed to the vision of the Council and its emphasis on the church in the modern world.

Along these lines, one of his favorite quotes (one he has used on innumerable occasions) is Paul's exhortation that governance belongs to those who have it "only for a season, a privileged season" -- that no one possesses it and that the transience of it must always be remembered in the context of the greater things.

That's the mindset everyone should have... but, regrettably, it's not the most prevalent one.

On his recent European trek (well, the first one -- he's in Cologne this week), Rigali gave the commencement speech at Notre Dame University at Louaize. As one would expect from the former head of the English desk, it's a heavily State-influenced talk on issues of social justice, war and peace and contributing to the upbuilding of Lebanese society.

I've never read a Rigali text as emphatic, fluid and poetic as this. Unlike many of his "anodyne" statments (to use Allen's term for Rigalispeak), this one shows clearly where his heart is. Definitely worth a close read. (And, for the curious, B16 was mentioned once. In passing.)

Here are the parts on Paul:

As an outside observer permit me to render homage to the culture and history of Lebanon, to its people and their accomplishments over the centuries and to the outstanding achievements of the Catholic Church in Lebanon.

But may I also share with you the very personal experience that is the inspiration of my fascination with Lebanon. Where is it that I first learned to share the Church’s love for Lebanon? Who was it who taught me that the destiny of Lebanon and its mission were so important, and that the well-being of its people was such an essential part of the Church’s solicitude for justice and peace in the Middle East. I am proud to say that I learned all of this personally years ago from the Bishop of Rome at that time, His Holiness Pope Paul VI.

Let me explain. For the last eight and a half years of his life, from February 1970 until his death in August 1978, I had the honor, as a collaborator in the Secretariat of State, of acting as the English-language interpreter for the Pope. Although he knew English, he generally preferred to speak Italian. I would translate for him in his many private audiences with English-speaking world leaders. Hence I witnessed firsthand his passionate love for Lebanon. I was with him when he spoke of the need to support and help maintain a free, united and sovereign Lebanon. I heard him express his deep conviction that the model of respectful and fraternal coexistence of peoples of different religions and beliefs, as found in Lebanon, must not perish. Paul VI understood and extolled the mission of Lebanon to be and remain and increasingly become a model of human solidarity in the Middle East, where the destinies of peoples are so intimately intertwined and profoundly affect the whole world.

In promoting and defending this respectful and fraternal coexistence in a sovereign, united and stable national union, Pope Paul VI was, throughout the years of his pontificate, a faithful herald of hope for Lebanon, always insisting that peace is possible and that it is the fruit of justice and love. Although peace comes from God as a gift, it is humanly advanced by every fraternal effort at reconciliation made by brothers and sisters who are the sons and daughters of the same great nation and coheirs of centuries of human wisdom. The preservation of this patrimony, in the thought of Pope Paul VI could bring only blessings to all the people of Lebanon, and to the world. The disappearance of this patrimony or the weakening of this model of human solidarity between children of the same Almighty and Merciful God would be—the Pope was convinced—an enormous loss for humanity.

Pope Paul VI understood moreover the great contribution made by the Catholic Church to Lebanese society and the great historic challenge to the Church in Lebanon during the years of his pontificate. For this reason as herald of hope he was also the expression of the conscience of the world and the supreme advocate for fraternal reconciliation. While working faithfully to promote dialogue between the Catholic Church and other religions, and in particular between Catholics and Muslims, the Pope worked and prayed that the teachings of Jesus Christ on fraternal love would encourage Christian living in all Christ’s disciples and promote true reconciliation between them and all their brothers and sisters of other religious beliefs.

In the mid 1970s, in the face of the great catastrophe of civil war in Lebanon, Pope Paul VI never ceased to call all the Lebanese to peaceful reconciliation. He never weakened in being a witness to hope and a convinced advocate of the necessity and immense value of the Lebanese model of living together in justice and peace. At the same time Paul VI proclaimed the efficacy of the teachings of Jesus Christ in bringing about the needed climate for peace in Lebanon and in the whole world.

There aren't many positive messengers about the legacy of Paul VI these days. I'm gratified that one of them is in our midst here at home.



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