Monday, October 04, 2010

"An Instrument of Peace," 45 Years On

Forty-five years ago today, church, the world changed....

In a moment that -- as the Visitor himself put it -- the Successors of Peter had "desired for centuries," it was on this St Francis' Day in 1965 that Pope Paul VI touched down in New York for a 14-hour trek, marking the first-ever pilgrimage of a Roman pontiff to the American continent.

Capped by a surreal evening Mass -- one celebrated not in St Patrick's Cathedral, but the old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx -- the day's other high-point came at the UN -- where, in an address to the General Assembly, the diplomat-Pope (a "lifer" in the Secretariat of State before his appointment as archbishop of Milan in 1954) sounded the memorable cry "No more war, war never again! It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind."

While Paul's UN speech was mostly delivered in impeccable French -- the traditional diplomatic tongue and one that, given his personal history, Papa Montini was especially proud of his fluency in -- the day's longest text given in the Pope's halting English came at the now-departed "House That Ruth Built," then hosting the first of three papal liturgies the venerable ballpark would see before its close at the end of the 2008 season. (The others came in 1979 and, of course, 2008.)

Against the ritual backdrop of a Votive Mass for Peace, a snip from the first PopeText ever to come from just behind Second Base:

What are We to say to you, that can correspond to the duties of Our apostolic ministry and be adequate to the spirit of this unique occasion? Our words can only be the words to the Gospel, which has just been read to you; the words of the risen Jesus, which He repeated three times: Peace be to you!

Truly, verily, Peace be to you!

How rich in meaning, how abundant in good things, is this divine and human greeting of Peace! Repeated thousands of times, we all recognize it, we all desire it. And that is good. But allow Us to exhort you to consider it once again, to preserve it as the Gospel message of the Pope as He lands on this soil and proclaims to all those He meets: Peace be to this house, to this continent, and to all those who inhabit it!

We have, then, three things to say to you.

First of all, you must love peace. Here We can use the words of Christ: «Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the son of God» (Matth. 5, 9). If we truly wish to be Christians, we must love peace, we must make our own the cause of peace, we must meditate on the real meaning of peace, we must conform our minds to the thought of peace. In the past, it was not always so in the education of minds and the training of citizens; but today it must be so; we must love peace, because its dwelling is first in men’s hearts, and only afterwards in the external condition of society. Peace must live and reign in men’s consciences, as Holy Scripture teaches us: «May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts» (Col. 3, 15). Peace is order, in relation to God and in relation to men; it is wisdom, it is justice, it is civilization. Whoever loves peace loves mankind, without distinction of race or of colour.

Second thought: You must serve the cause of peace. Serve it, and not make use of it for aims other than the true aims of peace. Serve it, and not use this noble standard as a cover for cowardice or selfishness, which refuses to make sacrifices for the common good; not debilitate and pervert the spirit, by evading the call of duty and seeking one’s own interests and pleasure. Peace is not a state which can be acquired and made permanent. Peace must be built; it must be built up every day by works of peace. These works of peace are, first of all, social order; then, aid to the poor, who still make up an immense multitude of the world population, aid to the needy, the weak, the sick, the ignorant. Peace must be like a garden, in which public and private beneficence cultivates the choicest flowers of friendship, of solidarity, of charity and love.

Third thought: Peace must be based on moral and religious principles, which will make it sincere and stable. Politics do not suffice to sustain a durable peace. The absence of conflict does not suffice to make of peace a source of happiness and of true human progress. Peace must have its roots anchored in wisdom, and this wisdom must draw nourishment from the true concept of life, that is the Christian concept. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus: «Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you» (Jn. 14, 27). Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Is. 9, 6), has His own original and characteristic peace, which can regulate every human relationship because, in the very first place, it regulates the relationship with God.

Coming among you at a moment, so beautiful, so brief but so important, as this, We have no better greeting, no better remembrance for you than to repeat that holy salutation of Christ: Peace, His peace!
Indeed, gang, the world has changed these last 45 years -- for starters, PopeTrips today are conspicuous by their absence.

If anyone out there has memories of the moment, whether from New York or far afield, feel free to send 'em along, especially for the benefit of the many of us who weren't around then, and have little idea of what it all felt like.

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On a related note, back in Rome, today sees the beginning of a four-day congress on the Catholic press organized by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

While much has evolved since this day in 1965, no shortage of things hasn't... so in that light, here's a rather unusual greeting -- at least, by today's standards -- given by P6 to the press corps who covered his Stateside journey:
Gentlemen of the Press, Radio, Television and Cinema,

Our crowded schedule did not permit Us the time to meet with you, but We cannot depart without expressing a word of admiration and respect for your profession and vocation. Communications have experienced a remarkable advance since our first contact many years ago. As a result the world has become much smaller. Behind each one of you is a vast network working to bring the latest news to everyone. Responsibility is in proportion to knowledge and you are in possession of much weighty knowledge. You can lead men to be aware of the complex problems, and you can encourage them to make their own personal contribution, without which true peace and harmony cannot ever become a reality.

Your labours are often hidden and go unheralded, but be sure that We appreciate them and value them highly. We are confident that you will not falter in bringing the message of peace to all men of good will, that you will continue to teach men that all are brothers of one human family, and that you will help them understand one another and to cooperate in an atmosphere of mutual respect and affection. Our good wishes and Our heartfelt thanks go to you for your most important work. May God bless you!
Writing from the home of the freshly-crowned AL East champions, the Mother of all Episcopal Blogs warmly recalls the day's chief broadcast analyst, "who told us that 'TWA,' the initials of the airline flying the Holy Father back to Rome meant 'Travel With Angels' and as his plane took off around midnight from JFK Airport, ended the day with a line from Shakespeare: 'Good Night, Sweet Prince.'"

Said commentator: who else but the famous "Bishop Sheen"?

"The Holy Father personally and the Catholic Church in the United States generally gained enormous credibility that day," the famous Bishop Lynch added.

And as we saw anew in Britain just a fortnight ago, the more things change....