2014-10-13 12:13:00

Pope Paul VI : the 'Hamlet cardinal '

(Vatican Radio) Leading up to the day Pope Francis beatifies Paul VI on Sunday October 19, Veronica Scarisbrick brings you a series of programmes focusing on this twentieth century pontiff. Today she highlights how he was often likened to the most famous of Shakespeare’s characters, Hamlet.

Listen to this programme presented and produced by Veronica Scarisbrick with sound clips of Paul VI speaking in English:

It was December 3, 1964 when during an impromptu press conference, Paul VI unleashed an unusual self-deprecating sense of humour, showing an awareness of a specific journalistic quirk: that of repeatedly reporting a quote likening him to this most famous of Shakespeare's characters: “The press which you represent can be a most important instrument of great good, always be faithful to the truth, that is the question”.

“That is the question”, Pope Paul VI’s words provoked hilarity among the journalists gathered around him. They immediately understood that reference to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

It’s a familiar story, going back to the days when Pope Paul was still Cardinal Archbishop Montini of Milan and the Roman Pontiff, his predecessor John XXIII, enquired after the Cardinal in his home diocese of Milan saying: “Well, how’s your Hamlet Cardinal?"

A shrewd remark  never to be forgotten by the press, which re-surfaced when the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan was himself elected to the See of Peter in June 1963. And not just by  the Italian press, even the “Newsweek” issue marking Paul VI’s recent election to the papacy, which had his photograph still dressed as a cardinal on the cover, quoted it. And  an editorial in this same issue by the title of:  “We have a pope” Paul VI: baffling, brilliant “, dedicated an entire paragraph to 'the Hamlet Cardinal'.

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