“Our voyage across the ocean to here, where it began, has been very rapid, and our stay in that continent very brief. But the scope of our presence there was quite worthy of our effort — the cause of peace in the world.”
Thus Pope Paul VI reported to the Fathers of the ecumenical council immediately upon his return to Rome from his history-making voyage to the United Nations.
The council Fathers, who had been in a working session until a half-hour before, were waiting in their places when the Pope walked down the center aisle of St. Peter’s basilica at 12:45 in his traveling cape, only a skullcap on his head. With him in the traveling party were several cardinals whose places had been left vacant at the table of the council presidency.
Perhaps for the first time in the history of the basilica, a priest stood by the Pope in his official entourage wearing a clerical suit, common to priests in the United States but rare on streets of Rome. He was Msgr. Pasquale Macchi, the Pope’s private secretary who had accompanied him on his voyage.
The council session conducted its normal morning business until noon, when an announcement was made of the Pope’s arrival at the airport. After one more speech, the Fathers waited in silence, joined by officials of the Roman curia who had left their offices to welcome Pope Paul. They were joined by members of the press corps, many of them witnessing a council working session for the first time.
As the Pope entered the basilica, the Julian choir began singing “Thou Art Peter.” It was soon joined by the council Fathers, who have become familiar with the hymn after three years of council sessions in Rome.
When Pope Paul arrived at his permanent chair at the table of the council’s presidency in front of the high altar, Achille Cardinal Lienart of Lille, who had been filling in for Eugene Cardinal Tisserant as president while the latter joined the papal trip, introduced the Pope to the council.
With a gesture of his hand, Pope Paul asked the Fathers to be seated and spoke to them in Latin in a voice which sounded strong and belied the weariness of the grueling schedule of the last 31 hours since he had left Rome’s airport.
“We give thanks to the Lord, venerable brothers,” he said, “to have had the fortune to announce … to men of all the world a message of peace. This Gospel message has never before had such a large audience, or — we can say — an audience more ready and willing to hear it.
“Never before has such an announcement given the impression of interpreting jointly the merciful voice of heaven and the imploring voice of earth, thus manifesting itself as the mysterious design of God for humanity, and completely adequate to the profound aspiration of that same humanity. And never before has the mission of the Church as mediator between God and man been more evident, justified by the most evident providential and modern reasons.”
This trip to the UN and the message he gave them, the Pope said, confer on the papacy a new burden — “and with this thought we end our journey.” Though the message derives from truth and therefore carries its own weight, it is only human nature that its efficacy is increased by the way in which each person practices what he preaches.
“The voice speaks. But the example of the Gospel’s herald persuades. Therefore a grave consequence rests on us from the fact that we have proclaimed the cause of peace. We must be now more than ever workers for peace. The Catholic Church has undertaken a greater obligation to serve the cause of peace from the fact that through our voice it has solemnly pledged the cause of peace.
“It is certainly not our office, nor can it be our intention, to enter into politics, nor into the field of economics, where temporal harmony which constitutes civil peace is constructed in a direct way. But we can and must help even in this construction of a civil peace by means of an assiduous moral support and, in some instances such as the works of charity, even material and direct t support.”
Referring to the council’s schema on the Church in the modern world, which was under debate just before he entered the basilica, Pope Paul said the discussion has already set the Church in motion in aiding the cause of peace.
“Our contribution … will become even more efficacious,” he said, “and more precious insofar as all of us, convinced that peace must have justice as its foundation, become advocates of justice. For the world has great need of justice, and Christ wills that we be hungry and thirsty for justice. We know, however, that justice is a progressive thing. We know that society makes progress slowly, becomes aware of its imperfect makeup and that gradually there come to light the strident and demanding inequalities which still afflict humanity. Is not perhaps this awareness of the imbalances between classes, between nations, the most grave threat to the construction of peace?”
Pope Paul concluded by asking all present to join with him “in the desire for peace and in prayer and labor to bring it about.”
He then asked Cardinal Lienart to recite the Angelus, gave his blessing to the assembly, and departed quietly by the side door.
Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome correspondent