Sanctos esse decernimus ac definimus… the traditional canonization formula was pronounced yesterday by Francis on the parvis of the Vatican Basilica. As I listened to those verbs expressed in the plural form, along with other bishops and priests and the multitude of faithful present, I recognized the voice of the Church in the voice of the Successor of Peter. In fact Church voice was expressed in the Pope’s words. Looking across Saint Peter’s Square I saw that crowds of faithful filled the entire Via della Conciliazione and I rejoiced at the thought of being “together.” But more often, my gaze extended to the façade of the Basilica from which hung the tapestries showing the seven new saints. Seeing the image of Paul VI at the centre I remembered the words spoken by Prof G.M. Vian past Sunday October 7, when in Castel Gandolfo he commemorated the 60th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII. It happened there, in the same Apostolic building hall, on October 9 1958, where Paul VI died thirty years, on August 6. He said Pius XII revived “papal holiness”, which continued until 2014 with the canonization in of John XXIII and John Paul II in a joint ceremony.
But now, with the canonizations of Sunday, October 14, for the first time a Christian who became Pope is proclaimed saint along with other exemplary figures. These same thoughts are found in a reflection by the editor-in-chief of the Osservatore Romano on the daily newspaper. Extending my gaze to the images of the new saints I pondered on the true holiness of the people, that very “next-door holiness” that Francis describes in Gaudete et Exsultate<http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html>. In addition to the figure of Paul VI, and of the other new saints, I was familiar with the figure of the bishop-martyr O. A. Romero: the martyrdom that made him known in the entire Church took place when he was a young priest. I was also familiar with the figure of Nunzio Sulprizio, who died in Naples 1836. He was beatified by Paul VI in 1963: in that same year I was a fifteen-year-old seminarian who had just entered the Pontifical Regional Seminary of Molfetta. We were introduced to his holy service by bishop Aurelio Marena, who served as postulator for the cause of beatification and auxiliary of the cardinal A. Ascalesi, archbishop of Naples. Having arrived in the Apulie in 1950 as bishop of Ruvo-Bitonto he always spoke of the “blessed Nuncio”, and to us, young seminarians, he was presented as a role model.
A Pope, a martyr-bishop, two priests, two women religious and the lay faithful:
“The saintly, courageous, humble young man who encountered Jesus in his suffering, in silence and in the offering of himself”, as Francis described him. Here we see the holiness of the people. Francis quoted from Paul VI’s words written in the first part of the exhortation Gaudete in Domino: “It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song.” While I listened, the ancient malice and the sorrowful Paul came back to my mind. Criticisms against him went even further, “Today, a Pope who does not stand up to criticism will fail in his task”, said the then archbishop of Munich Cardinal J. Ratzinger in the funeral homily of August 10 1978. But yesterday I once again recalled the words with which Paul VI greeted the journalists of the Association of the Foreign Press in Italy at the end of a meeting with them on February 28 1976, giving them as a memento the text of the exhortation Gaudete in Domino
For in truth, not only did he speak of joy, he also lived it out (indeed it shined through his gaze) and he did so full of faith and love for God and mankind; as a form of faithfulness in friendship (that is how he is remembered by his “breeding grounds” and that is how he was seen by those who were closest to him), also in his wise expressions of humour.
It is the widsdom of saints, as Francis said in his address to the Roman Curia of December 2014, further explained in an interview released at the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, when he revealed that he prays to Saint Thomas More every day: ” Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.” He also wrote it in n. 122 of Gaudete et Exsultate. Thus Paul VI said in his address to journalists (by listening to that audio we immediately realize that he was cordially smiling): “We have written nothing less – and this is said with a certain amount of conscious self-defence: we are always accused of being ominous birds, which bring sadness, which bring melancholy, fear, scruples etc. … – we have written a word about Christian joy, because we believe that this is the most spontaneous, most genuine emanation that comes from those who truly possess the treasure of the contact with God and of their belonging to the Catholic Church.”
The tomb of Paul VI has remained where his mortal remains were buried on August 12 1978.
Francis wished to respect his will, written in his testament dated June 30 1965: ” As regards my tomb: I would like to be buried in the earth with a simple stone to indicate the place and invite a prayer of Christian piety. No monument for me.” In addition to the fulfilment of his will, we know that right there, in the recollection and the semi-darkness of those “grottos”, foreseeing his remains preserved in “real earth”, we can easily retrace the words that Paul VI dedicated to the Church, inscribed in the last lines of his Thought on Death: “I do not leave her, I do not go out of her, but more and better, with her I am united and merged: death is a progress in the communion of Saints.”