...the slightly-built and rather quiet Monsignor was a hard-working, courteous figure who carried out discreet and - because it was wartime and Italy was bound in alliance with Nazi Germany - often dangerous work. One of his tasks was to liaise with convents and monasteries that were able to hide Jewish refugees. With Pius XII, he was able to help save many lives.
He was home-educated, from a devout family, and had discerned his vocation to the priesthood while still young. He was traditional in his beliefs and practices, well-read, academically gifted, and with a reserved but friendly manner.
Now he is to be beatified. I learned about his wartime work while researching my book Courage and Conviction, about Brigettine nuns who hid Jewish refugees in their convent in Rome during World War II. He was Monsignor Montini then, but became better known when he was elected as successor of St Peter and took the name Paul VI.
I have today read some horrible Internet attacks on him, attacks both ignorant and unkind, some from Catholics who should know better. As Pope, Paul VI was often villified, but he stood firm, while unhappy and too often lonely, amid the storms that so often hurtle viciously in and around the Church: he upheld the Faith, he gave us Humanae Vitae and the Credo of the People of God, and Evangeli Nuntiandi, he merits our thanks.
He will be a patron of home-schoolers, and also of all who feel lonely or abandoned within the Church. He seemed unexciting to those of us who were young, and pictures showed him looking solemn, dwarfed by the big egg-shaped jewelled headpiece then in use, thin and tired. I personally knew little about him: I think I simply considered him rather feeble. The mass media were unkind to him.
We live in a different world from the one Paul VI knew. There were some 653 million Catholics in 1970: today the figure is over 1.196 billion. There were 198.398 parishes in 1970, and now it has grown to 221,055. Paul VI knew a Church that was still largely centred on Europe: today the Church is growing in vast numbers in China and in Africa. He was perhaps the last Pope of the "traditional" style. His successor took on the challenge of taking the Church into a new Millenium.
Paul VI can now intercede from Heaven for the Church he loved, and is probably praying for those who are now attacking him. He was a good and holy man.