ROME – He’s been called both left-leaning and right-wing, defined as both conservative and progressive. In the same sentence he’s described as authoritarian, yet docile.
No pope in the past century has seemed at times as inscrutable as the soon-to-be canonized Blessed Paul VI, but a new Vatican documentary hopes to set the record straight.
“Montini cannot be categorized. He’s a multi-tasking personality, as we say today. A multifaceted figure who goes from art, to poetry, to literature, to actors and theatre, to what is theology in all its aspects, to liturgy. Montini addressed every possible aspect,” said Father Antonio Marrazzo, the postulator for the pope’s sainthood cause, to a group of reporters Oct. 2.
A new twelve-part web documentary by the Vatican’s department of communication, “Paul VI: A Man, A Pope, A saint,” was presented in Rome Tuesday.
The project will accompany the preparation for the canonization of Paul VI on Oct. 14, with statements by people who knew him and studied his papacy along with exclusive images from the Vatican’s radio and media archives.
“A web doc helps to have access to the complexity of popes and saints,” said Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò from the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, explaining the format that’s already proved successful with a similar documentary on St. Pope John XXIII.
Paul VI, who reigned from 1963 to 1978, led the Catholic Church through the closing of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the turbulent period that followed, overseeing significant transitions in liturgy, seminary formation, theological study, and many other areas of ecclesiastical life.
He’s the pope who brought home the modernizing promises of Vatican II and watched the first moon landing in awe, but he’s also known as a pontiff of pomp and incense who signed the controversial 1968 encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church’s traditional opposition to artificial birth control. The canonization will take place on the 50th anniversary of the encyclical, raising even more question marks around the enigmatic pope.
In Paul VI, “there is a duality of expression, pointing to a pope that we do not know,” said Massimiliano Manichetti, manager at Vatican News. “This documentary wishes to let you know Paul VI.”
The web-doc will launch Oct. 4, on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, and will touch on the varying aspects of his papacy. Each episode, creators explained at the press event, will be watchable on its own, but the entire collection offers a full exploration of his papacy.
“It does not have the expectation of being an exhaustive and totalizing overview,” said Nicoletta Sola of the Vatican’s communications department, adding that each episode will be unique thanks to interviews narrating the documentary.
The first episode will look at the enthusiasm for the canonizations felt by the people in Brescia, the hometown of Paul VI, born Giovanni Maria Montini, as well as in Milan. Both Brescia and Milan will be promoting the documentary in the following weeks.
The second episode will focus on Paul VI as a priest, with commentary offered by Marrazzo.
According to media reports, on Feb. 6 of this year the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved a second miracle needed for the canonization of Paul VI by a unanimous vote. Pope Paul will become the third pontiff that Francis has made a saint since his election five years ago, with the others being John XXIII and John Paul II.
“It’s necessary to make accessible the human aspect of Montini, which is fundamental. Who was Giovanni Battista Montini?” Marrazzo asked. “It’s true, Montini passes as the pope of modernity, or contemporaneity, because he is of our time. But for me, judging by how he always considered various aspects of things, he was the last Renaissance pope.”
The postulator for Paul VI’s cause explained how the Renaissance aspect of his papacy didn’t just depend on the multitude of interests displayed by the pontiff, but also by his unique political acumen.
Paul VI’s Renaissance quality was “not just as at an artistic level, but also at a Church level,” Marrazzo explained, through engagement “with the great men of his time, allowing the Church to become a seed of human possibilities.”
The fourth episode of the documentary takes up this aspect, and in particular the political ties between Paul VI and Aldo Moro, an Italian politician who was murdered by the left-wing terrorist Red Brigades in 1978. In the past, Marrazzo has told the press that Paul VI was willing to exchange his own life for Moro’s.
The fifth, sixth and seventh episodes offer insights through art into Paul VI’s psyche. Montini is responsible for rebuilding the bridge between the Church and the art world, and many pieces in the Vatican Museum’s modern art gallery are there thanks to his patronage. Museum director Barbara Jatta and Italian actor Gigi Proietti speak about the profound relationship between artists and the soon-to-be canonized pope.
The remaining episodes will look at the pope’s keen interests in science, in journalism and in global politics. They will highlight his 1965 speech at the United Nations, the first given by a pontiff, and his memorable words in 1968 before steel workers in the southern Italian town of Taranto.
But Marrrazzo wishes to make sure that these important milestones don’t bury the lead.
“What characterizes Montini is the council,” he said. “If we don’t start from there, we risk not understanding everything else.”
The eleventh episode of the documentary will look at Paul VI’s legacy though the Second Vatican Council. From ecumenism to addressing the modern world, it was Paul VI who created the doors that popes afterward, including Pope Francis, were able to burst open.
“He was a man who lived his faith with intelligence. He made some brave choices for the time. He was not afraid,” Marrazzo said. “It took him time, it’s true, and he’s called the pope of doubt, but it’s not true.”
Looking back at the pontiff, speakers at the press event praised his conciseness and clarity as well as his ability to keep an open mind before coming to a decision, suggesting that perhaps, more than anything else, Paul VI was a pope of discernment.
The timing of his canonization is even more symbolic, since he also launched the Synod of Bishops in 1965 in an attempt to broaden the involvement of bishops from around the world in the governance of the Church.
The next session of the synod is scheduled for Rome this month and devoted to themes of youth and vocations. Paul VI’s last homily is dedicated to youth, where he reminded them of their “capacity for extraordinary openness and joyous availability, which unfortunately adults have sometimes forgotten or lost.”
“Youth and kids, you yourselves bring the future of the world and of history,” he said during Mass at St. Mary Major in Rome in January 1978. “This world will be better, more fraternal, more just, if already, starting now, all your life will be open to the grace of Christ, to the ideal of Love and Peace, which the Gospel teaches.”