Jesuit's biography of Blessed Paul VI

A biography of Pope Paul VI – who is due to be beatified by Pope Francis this weekend – has been reissued by the Catholic Truth Society. Originally published in 2008, it was written by British Jesuit, Fr Anthony Symondson SJ. Pope Francis will beatify Pope Paul VI during the closing Mass of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome on Sunday.

Giovanni Battista Montini was born in 1897 in the northern Italian province of Brescia and was ordained to the priesthood in 1920. He was named Archbishop of Milan in 1954. After he was elected Pope in 1963, he reconvened the Second Vatican Council (following the death of St John XXIII) and presided over the final three of its four sessions. He oversaw the promulgation of all of the council's documents and led the process of implementing the council's reforms.

Paul VI was the first Pope in the modern area to travel abroad, visiting the Middle East and Asia, as well as Colombia, Australia, Uganda and New York where he addressed the United Nations in October 1965. “Naturally diffident and shy, all that he achieved had a considerable spiritual and personal cost,” according to Fr Symondson.

“During Pope Paul’s reign, more changes were introduced in the Catholic Church than in all previous centuries combined, not least due to the Second Vatican Council,” he says. ”His pontificate defined the papacy’s new role and, amid great socio-political upheaval on a worldwide scale, safeguarded the substance of the Catholic faith intact.”

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control, Humanae Vitae, is now widely accepted as a prophetic document. The 1968 document affirmed the Church's prohibition against artificial contraception, placing that conclusion in the context of Catholic teaching about the beauty and purpose of marriage, married love and procreation. These are topics that have been widely discussed at the Synod on the Family currently taking place in Rome.

Pope Paul VI died at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo on 6 August 1978. The miracle attributed to his intercession which has led to his beatification involved the birth of a baby in California in the 1990s. According to news reports, a pregnant woman whose life was at risk along with the life of her baby was advised by doctors to terminate the pregnancy. Instead she sought prayers from a family friend - an Italian nun - who placed a holy card with Pope Paul's photograph and a piece of his vestment on the woman's belly. The baby was born healthy and doctors continued monitoring the child's health up to the age of 12 and concluded that everything about the child was normal. On 9 May 2014, Pope Francis signed the decree recognising this miracle and attributing it to Pope Paul VI’s intercession.

In addition to his CTS biography of Pope Paul VI, Fr Symondson has also written about the 20th Century architect, Stephen Dykes Bower, and Sir Ninian Comper whom he described as the last Gothic Revivalist. He also writes for Thinking Faith, the online journal of the Jesuits in Britain.