by RENZO ALLEGRI, Zenit
Paul VI was beatified by Pope Francis on October 19, during the closing Mass of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
Born in Brescia on September 26, 1897, Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini belonged to a bourgeois family. His father, Giorgio Montini, was a lawyer and, for several years, director of the Catholic newspaper Il Cittadino di Brescia (The Citizen of Brescia). Giovanni Battista had two brothers: Ludovico and Francesco.
Montini was elected Pope on June 21, 1963, succeeding John XXIII. He was on Peter’s throne until August 6, 1978, when he died in Castel Gandolfo at age 80.
He is one of history’s great Popes — not very popular among the greater public, because he is little known. By nature he was humble and reserved, and to many he seemed “cold and calculating,” “a detached intellectual”. However, those who had the fortune to see him up close and to know him, thought otherwise of him. He was an affable man, sensitive and cultured,
generous, and ready to do things with discretion and as a gift. He was a man of great aff ection, a cultivator of friendship.
“A life of friendship is a second life,” he said. Jean Guitton, the famous French academic, who was his friend, described him as “an aristocrat of the spirit, a real artist”.
Historians agree in stating that his importance in the world is due to his learning, his valuable documents, including social ones, and to him being the helmsman of Vatican II, which made him gigantic.
They have described him as a “Pope of the Church,” a “Pope of humanity,” a “Pope of Peace”. He was the Pope who inaugurated the “itinerant ministry”, exalted later by Karol Wojtyla. Paul VI undertook nine pilgrimages outside of Italy, outstanding among which was his trip to the Holy Land in 1964. No pontiff , other than St Peter, had ever been in the land of Jesus’ birth.
Because he was humble and reserved, he never had great mass popularity, which affects people who look for worldwide visibility, as generally happens with popes. From a human point of view, little is known of the private person of Giovanni Battista Montini.
In 1968, Paul VI’s elementary school teacher was still alive. The one who taught him how to write, to read, and who opened to him the world of learning.
His name was Ezechiele Malizia. He lived in Camignone, in the province of Brescia. It was the month of September, and Mr. Malizia had just celebrated his 89th birthday, but he looked like 70. He had a lucid
mind, a wonderful smile and his pipe lit and always in his mouth.
“I was 24 years old when Giambattista Montini’s mother took me to her son who was to start his first year of elementary school,” Ezechiele Malizia said. He was a teacher in the Arici School in Brescia. He knew the Montini family because he had also had as a pupil Giovanni Battista’s
eldest brother, Ludovico. “The future Pope was with me for his first and
second year of elementary school.”
Ezechiele Malizia stated categorically: “I would never have thought that he would become a priest, and later pope. Sixty-five years exactly have
passed since I saw him for the fi rst time. And, after so much time, it’s not easy to remember everything.
However, I have never forgotten little Giambattista. And do you know why? Because he was outstanding among all — and not for being a quiet boy. He was a mischievous little one, very thin, skeletal; he seemed restless. He was very vivacious, of a vivacity that was almost worrying. His mother confided this to me when she brought him to the school. She was afraid no one would be able to stop him.
“I must say that it was hard for me too, so much so that, to keep him quiet and to have him pay attention in class, I felt obliged to have him sit in the front row, in front of the blackboard: So he was continually
Giambattista was one of the most unruly children.
“I let him run like a spinning top, to get rid of his energy, and then he paid attention in the classroom.”
His results were excellent, at least as judged by Giambattista’s mother. “I think that Giambattista also realised that the method I used was right for him.”
The teacher said he never saw Giambattista again after elementary school, but he didn’t forget him. “When he was elected pope, I went to see him and he, recalling his time in elementary school, said to me: ‘Dear
teacher, do you remember when you pulled my ears because I was always
“I was overwhelmed and embarrassed. I didn’t think the pope would
remember me. However, he was very affable. He continued talking and remembering and, I was so affected that I thought I was asleep and dreaming. I stayed with the pope for more than half an hour. And, at a certain moment he put a necklace on the neck with a coat-of-arms and he said some things to me. I didn’t understand anything.
“When I left, the monsignors who had accompanied me called me ‘Commander’. I found out what it was all about and learned that, in giving me that necklace, the pope had appointed me Knight ‘Commander of
by RENZO ALLEGRI, Zenit