Pope Francis has urged the Church to be open to new ways as it faces up to the challenges of twenty-first century society, as he moved one of his most modernising predecessors a step closer to sainthood.
Speaking at the beatification of Blessed Pope Paul VI (r1963-78), Francis said that Catholics must “not fear the new” and must be open to previously “unexpected paths”.
The Mass at St Peter’s this morning in front of 70,000 faithful, brought the at times heated Extraordinary Synod on the Family to a close.
For the last two weeks bishops have been engaged in critical discussions on doctrine around marriage, sexuality, divorce and the start of life in order to best respond to the challenges facing Catholic families today.
But in a vote yesterday Synod Fathers were unable to reach agreement on several key issues such as whether to relax the ban on divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receiving Communion, and on how the Church should respond to people in gay and other "irregular" relationships.
In an apparent signal of support for those who favoured the more pastoral approach of the contested reforms, Francis said that the Church must look to the future, healing the "wounds of those that are hurt".
He said: "God is not afraid of the new". "That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways." The Church "must waste no time in seeking to heal the wounds of those that are hurt and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope," he said.
The Church was not a place to "escape from reality", he said, adding that "Christians must look at the reality of the future, that of God, with both feet planted firmly on the ground, and respond with courage to the numerous new challenges."
Francis quoted Blessed Paul VI himself as saying that the Church must "scrutinise the signs of the times, to try to adapt its ways and methods to respond to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society."
Pope Paul in his 15-year-reign was responsible for implementing the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, establishing the Synod of Bishops and guiding the Church through the tumultuous years of the 1960s sexual revolution. He was the first pope to travel outside Italy in the modern era, he oversaw the updating of the liturgy from Latin to the vernacular, and dramatically reorganised the Roman Curia. Like Pope Francis, Paul VI disliked the luxurious trappings of the papacy and did away with the papal triple tiara.
But the former Cardinal Giovanni Montini is also remembered for his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which banned Catholics from using artificial birth control.
Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978, was beatified after the Vatican approved a miracle on an unborn child. Doctors in California had said a baby boy would be born with serious birth defects, but the parents refused to have an abortion and he was born in good health. The boy is now in his teens. Francis praised Paul VI's courage and called him the "great helmsman" of the Church.
Pope Benedict, whom in 1977 Paul VI appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising and cardinal, made a rare public appearance looking frail. Francis embraced him and accompanied him to his seat in the front row.
Read Pope Francis' homily here.
Above: Pope Francis greets cardinals at conclusion of beatification Mass of Blessed Paul VI in St. Peter's Square at Vatican. Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring