|Encounter with Christ a
liberating educational experience
After greeting the organizers of his Visit
at the Paul VI Pastoral Centre in Brescia [8 November 2009], the Holy
Father was driven to Concesio, Paul VI's birthplace. Mr Stefano Retali,
Mayor of Concesio, and Mr Giuseppe Camadini, President of the Paul VI
Institute, welcomed him at the house in which Giovanni Battista Montini
was born. The Pope then walked to the Institute for the official
ceremony for the inauguration of the premises in the Institute's
Vittorio Montini Auditorium. On this occasion the Sixth Paul VI
International Prize was awarded to the French research institute
The following is a translation of the Holy Father's Address at the
ceremony, which was given in Italian.
Venerable Brother Bishops and Priests,
I cordially thank you for
inviting me to inaugurate the new premises of the Institute dedicated to
Paul VI, built next to the house in which he was born. I greet each one
of you with affection, starting with the Cardinals, the Bishops, the
Authorities and the important figures present. I extend a special
greeting to the President, Giuseppe Camadini, with gratitude for his
courteous words to me describing the Institute's origins, purpose and
I take part gladly in the
solemn ceremony for the presentation of the "Paul VI International
Prize", this year awarded to the French series "Sources Chrétiennes".
This choice focuses on the educational context which, as has been
clearly underlined, intends to highlight the commitment of this
founded in 1942 by Henri De Lubac and Jean
to a rediscovery of ancient and medieval Christian sources.
I thank the Director,
Bernard Meunier, for the greeting he addressed to me. I welcome this
opportunity to encourage you, dear friends, to shed ever more light on
the personality and teaching of this great Pontiff, not so much from the
hagiographical and celebrative viewpoint as rather
and this was rightly stressed
under the banner of scientific research to make a contribution to the
knowledge of the truth and to the understanding of the history of the
Church and the Pontiffs in the 20th century.
The better known he
becomes, the more the Servant of God Paul VI will be appreciated and
loved. I am united to the great Pope by a bond of affection and devotion
since the years of the Second Vatican Council. How could I fail to
remember that in 1977 it was Paul VI himself who entrusted me with the
pastoral care of the Diocese of Munich and created me a Cardinal? I feel
I owe, this great Pontiff deep gratitude for the esteem he showed me on
I would like here to
examine the different aspects of his personality but I shall limit my
considerations to a single feature of his teaching which seems to me of
great timeliness and in tune with the motivation of this year's Prize:
his educational skill. We are living in times in which a real
"educational emergency" is being felt. Training the young generations on
whom the future depends has never been easy, but in this time of ours it
seems to have become even more complicated. Parents, teachers, priests
and those who hold direct educational responsibilities know this well.
An atmosphere, a mindset, and a form of culture are spreading that cast
doubt on the value of the person, the meaning of truth and good and
ultimately the goodness of life. Yet a wide spread thirst for
certainties and values is strongly felt.
Thus it is necessary to
pass on something worthwhile to the generations to come, sound rules for
behaviour, and to point out lofty objectives to which to direct
decisively their existence. There is a growing demand for an education
that can answer the expectations of youth; an education that is
primarily a testimony and, for the Christian educator, a witness of
In this regard I remember
the incisive programmatic sentence of Giovanni Battista Montini which he
wrote in 1931: "I want my life to be a testimony to truth". By testimony
I mean the preservation, search for and profession of truth" (Spiritus
Veritatis, in Colloqui religiosi, Brescia 1981,
p. 81). This testimony
is made impelling by the realization that "in the secular field, men of
thought, also and perhaps especially in Italy, think little of Christ.
He is largely unknown, forgotten and absent to the contemporary culture"
(Introduzione allo studio di Cristo, Rome 1933, p. 23). Montini
the educator, student and priest, Bishop and Pope, always felt the need
for a qualified Christian presence in the world of culture, art and
social life, a presence rooted in the truth of Christ and at the same
time attentive to the human being and his or her vital needs.
This explains why attention
to the educational problem, to the formation of young people
which Montini also drew from the atmosphere in his own family
remained constant in his thought and action. He was born into one of the
Catholic families of Brescia as they were then, committed and fervent in
their actions, and grew up under the tutorship of his father Giorgio, a
protagonist of important battles for the affirmation of the freedom of
Catholics in education. In one of his first writings Giovanni Battista
Montini remarked on the subject of the Italian school: "We ask no more
than a little freedom to educate as we wish the young who come to
Christianity attracted by the beauty of its faith and traditions" (Per
la nostra scuola: un libro del prof. Gentile, in Scritti giovanili,
Brescia 1979, p. 73).
Montini was a priest with a
profound faith and a broad culture, a director of souls, an acute
investigator of the "drama of human existence". Generations of young
university students found in him, as Chaplain of FUCI [the Italian
Catholic Federation of University Students,] a reference point, someone
who could form consciences, create enthusiasm and recall the duty of
being witnesses at every moment of life, making the beauty of the
Christian experience shine out. His students — those of that period —
say that on hearing him speak they noticed the inner fire that gave life
to his words, in stark contrast with his seemingly frail body.
One of the basic aims of
the formative role proposed by the university circles of FUCI of which
he was in charge, consisted in striving for the spiritual unity of the
personality of the young: "Not separate compartments in the soul", he
said, with "culture on one side and faith on the other; school on one
side, Church on the other. Doctrine, like life, is one" (cf.
Idee-Forze, in Studium 24 , p. 343). In
other words full harmony and integration between the cultural and
religious dimensions of formation were essential for Montini, with a
special emphasis on the knowledge of Christian doctrine and the
practical implications in life.
For this reason, from the
beginning of his activity in the Roman circle of FUCI, he promoted with
a serious spiritual and intellectual commitment charitable initiatives
for university students at the service of the poor, through the St
Vincent conference. He never separated what he was subsequently to
define as "intellectual charity" from a social presence, from meeting
the needs of the lowliest.
In this way students were
taught to discover the continuity between the strict duty to study and
practical missions among the slum dwellers. "We believe", he wrote,
"that the Catholic is not someone beset by thousands of problems even of
a spiritual order.... No! The Catholic is someone who possesses the
fruitfulness of certainty. And it is in this way that, faithful to his
faith, he can see the world not as an abyss of perdition but, rather, as
a field for the harvest" (La distanza del mondo in Azione
Fucina, 10 February 1929, p. 1).
Giovanni Battista Montini
insisted on the formation of youth to enable them to form a relationship
with modernity, a difficult and often critical relationship but always
constructive and dialogical. He emphasized certain negative
characteristics of modern culture, in the area both of knowledge and of
action, such as subjectivism, individualism and the unlimited
affirmation of the self. Yet at the same time he deemed dialogue
necessary, but always based on a solid doctrinal formation whose
unifying principle was faith in Christ; thus a mature Christian
"conscience", capable of confronting everyone but without giving into
the fashion of the time.
As Pontiff, he was to say
to the Rectors and Presidents of .the Jesuit Universities that "blind
imitation of others' doctrine or morals is far from the spirit of the
Gospel". "Furthermore, those who do not share with us the stance of the
Church", he added, "demand of us extreme clarity in expressing our
viewpoint so as to be able to establish constructive and trustworthy
dialogue". Therefore cultural pluralism and respect should "never make a
Christian lose sight of his obligation to serve the truth in charity, to
follow that truth of Christ which alone gives true freedom" (cf.
Address to Jesuit Rectors of universities, 6 August 1975;
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, [ORE] 21 August 1975,
For Pope Montini the young
person was to be educated to judge the atmosphere in which he lives and
works, to consider himself a person and not just a number among the
masses: in a word, he must be helped to have a "strong conviction", able
to "act strongly" to avoid the possible danger of putting action before
thought and making experience the source of truth.
He said on this topic:
"Action cannot enlighten itself. For man not to succumb to thinking as
he acts, he must be taught to act as he thinks. Even in the Christian
world where love and charity have a supreme and decisive importance, one
cannot set aside the light of the truth which submits its ends and
reasons to love" (Insegnamenti , 194).
Dear friends, those FUCI
years remained impressed upon Paul VI's personality; they were difficult
because of the political context in Italy but exciting because of the
young people who recognized in the Servant of God a guide and teacher.
In him, Archbishop of Milan then Successor of the Apostle Peter, the
aspiration and concern for the subject of education never diminished.
His numerous interventions dedicated to the young generations in
turbulent and troubled times, like the year 1968, bear witness to this.
He pointed out courageously
the path to the encounter with Christ as a liberating educational
experience and the one, true response to the yearning and aspirations of
youth, fallen prey to ideology. "You youngsters of today", he said, "are
caught in a conformism that could become habitual, a conformism which
unconsciously subjects your freedom to the machinelike tyranny of other
people's thinking, opinions, feelings, acts and fashions? So, then you
are swept away by a 'crowd-spirit' which may make you feel strong, but
once it has you in its grip, it drives you at times to group-revolt,
often without your knowing why..... But if you once become aware of
Christ, if you really get to know him and adhere to him... you will
become free within yourselves... you will know the "why and wherefore"
of life, and for whom you are living.... And at the same time you will
feel a marvellous thing happening, an intelligent power of friendship,
sociability and love coming to birth in you. You will not feel lonely"
(cf. Insegnamenti VI, , 117-118).
Paul VI described himself
as "an old friend of the young". He was able to recognize and share in
their anguish when they were discussing the desire to live, the need for
certainty, the craving for love, the sense of bewilderment, the
temptation to be sceptical, and the experience of disappointment. He had
learned to understand their soul and remembered that the agnostic
indifference of current thought, critical pessimism and the materialist
ideology of social progress did not suffice for the spirit, open to very
different horizons of truth and life (cf. ORE, 18 July 1974, p.
Today, as in his time, an
unavoidable demand for meaning, a search for genuine human
relationships, is emerging in the new generations. Paul VI said: "Modern
man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does
listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (Apostolic
Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi on Evangelization in the Modern
World, n. 41).
My venerable Predecessor
was a teacher of life and a courageous witness of hope; he was not
always understood and indeed was sometimes opposed and isolated by the
cultural movements dominant at the time. Yet, firm despite his physical
frailty, he guided the Church without hesitation. He never lost the
trust of youth, renewing for them, and not only for them, the invitation
to trust in Christ and to follow him on the path of the Gospel.
Dear friends, once again I
thank you for giving me the opportunity to breathe
here in the town of his birth and in these places full of his family and
the atmosphere in which the Servant of God Paul VI grew up, the Pope of
the Second Vatican Council and of the post-conciliar period. Here
everything speaks of the riches of his personality and of his extensive
doctrine. Here there are also significant memories of other Pastors and
protagonists of the Church's history in the last century, such as:
Cardinal Bevilacqua, Bishop Carlo Manziana, Mons. Pasquale Macchi and
his trusted personal secretary, Fr Paolo Caresana.
I warmly hope that this
Pope's love for young people, his constant encouragement to entrust
themselves to Jesus Christ
an invitation taken up by John Paul II and which I too desired to renew
precisely at the beginning of my Pontificate
may be perceived by the new generations. I assure you of my prayers for
this as I bless all of you present here, your families, your work and
the initiatives of the Paul VI Institute.