Where the Future Paul VI Was Ahead of His Time

Book Details «Urban Mission» Initiative of Archbishop Montini

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MILAN, Italy, NOV. 19, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Few people know that popular urban missions — one of the highlights of the Jubilee Year — were pioneered by Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI.

Elderly Milanese remember how Archbishop Montini would mingle incognito with the faithful in a parish on the outskirts of the city, to see for himself how the people reacted to the popular missions that he launched in 1957.

On Saturday, Milan´s Lazzati Foundation presented a book by journalist Antonio Airo that tells the story of the missions. «Come and Listen: Montini and the Milan Mission» («Venite e Ascoltate. Montini e la Missione di Milano») is published by the Ambrosian Center.

At the presentation, theologian Marco Vergottini underlined two fundamental aspects of that mission.

First, he emphasized Archbishop Montini´s ability to foresee, before the Second Vatican Council, the «change of era» — «from Christianity to a secularized world.»

Second, the theologian emphasized «the timeliness of the mission topic,» of «evangelization in the style of dialogue.»

That mission went beyond the diocesan confines. Archbishop Pasquale Macchi, Montini´s secretary both in Milan and during his pontificate, recalled that Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger of Montreal went to Milan to study it and reproduce it in his city.

Historian Agostino Giovagnoli said that the city mission has been an almost-forgotten aspect of Archbishop Montini, despite the fact that it was a typical expression of his pastoral style.

The word «distanced» is important in understanding this mission, the historian said. Archbishop Montini understood the problem of the increase in the number of faithful who distanced themselves from the Church, and in the number of non-Christians. He saw Catholic life threatened by secularism, and conceived the mission as a response to counter it.

Archbishop Montini was aware of the danger of de-Christianization and said: «Rather than resigning ourselves to being a religious community within a pagan community, we must do everything possible so that this will not happen.»

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