Fifty years ago today a new pope

Fifty years ago today, to the surprise of very few, Giovanni Battista Montini was elected to succeed Pope John XXIII. I was in St. Peter's Square when the "Habemus papam" was sung, and a good number of us were pleased at his election because we were confident that he would continue the Church on the process of aggiornamento proposed by John and ratified by the world's bishops at the first session of the Second Vatican Council. And indeed one of the first acts of Paul VI was to announce that the Council would resume and pursue the same goals of spiritual renewal and pastoral reform. He presided over the final three sessions of the Council during which all sixteen of the conciliar texts were elaborated and promulgated. The Council is often thought of only or principally in terms of Pope John, but it was just as much Paul VI's Council. And of course, he presided over the tumulturous aftermath of the Council and did all he could to hold the Church together. During his fifteen-year pontificate he was often severely criticized from both left and right in the Church, which for me is an indication that he must have been doing something right.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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