ROME (JTA) – Pope Paul VI, the first pontiff to visit Israel, has moved a step closer to sainthood.
Pope Francis beatified Paul VI at a Vatican ceremony Sunday at the close of a synod of bishops.
Paul VI, who reigned from 1963 to 1978, opened the Roman Catholic Church to formal dialogue with the Jewish world.
He visited Jerusalem in January 1964 on a brief trip to Israel and Jordan. It was the first time a reigning pope had visited the Holy Land, but at the time the Vatican did not recognize Israel as a state — Israel and the Holy See established full diplomatic relations in 1993 — and Paul did not pronounce the word “Israel” in public during his tenure.
Paul’s trip came more than a year before the landmark Nostra Aetate declaration of 1965, which opened the way to Catholic-Jewish dialogue and was one of a number of reforms enacted at the Second Vatican Council.
Vatican Radio described Paul as “the pope who steered and implemented the Second Vatican Council” and whose decisions “were often met with psychological resistance from those around him for moving with the times.”
Francis visited Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority at the end of May, in part to mark the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s trip.