THE PILGRIM OF PEACE: Reminiscing the Visit of St. Pope Paul VI to Bombay In 1964

‘If it pleases the Lord, I come to India and I come’

December 2, 1964 – a day distinctly marked in the history of India and the Church. As throngs of people flooded the Airport Terminal, all eyes were fixed on that spot where the ramp was being adjusted. The great door of the Air India plane opened and His Holiness, the Pilgrim of Peace stood framed in it. He was clad in his white cassock, with a red satin cape and a gold embroidered stole on his shoulders. On his face was a smile that touched millions as he extended his hands in an embrace that excluded none.  

As the choir burst into ‘God bless the Pope’, the Vice President, Zakir Hussain and His Holiness mounted the decorated rostrum. ‘We come as a pilgrim, a pilgrim of peace, of joy, of serenity and of love. We greet all Indian people, every man, woman and child. Jai Hind!’ Pope Paul VI affectionately exclaimed.

His words electrified the union of hearts as a deafening ‘Viva il Papa’ roared the air. Never before had a ‘Namaste’ or a ‘Jai Hind’ produced an enthusiastic thrill as when uttered by the ‘Pilgrim of Peace.’ Indeed, no prisoner of the Vatican was Pope Paul VI.

The visit of Pope Paul VI to Bombay (now Mumbai) from December 2 – 5, 1964 is a testimony of unforgettable memories, stories, pictures and reports. However what sonorously echoes the tangibility of the event are certain remarkable souvenirs housed with honour at the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum, Goregaon.


When Pope Paul VI visited Bombay during the 38th International Eucharistic Congress, he desired to donate ‘the most precious gift since he sat on the ‘Sogolio di Pietro’ to the world’s ‘poorest of the poor.’ What could be more precious than the tribute of a chalice surpassing artistic, historic and theological beauty, gloriously and graciously regarded the Golden Lily? Engraved with the Papal Coat of Arms, the chalice was executed by Marcello Conticelli, Orvieto’s great artist. It was presented to Pope Paul VI during his visit to the Cathedral to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Eucharistic Miracle that took place in Bolsena in 1264.


His Holiness St. Pope Paul VI presided over the Eucharistic Congress from December 2nd to 5th, 1964. On December 3rd, the Day of Consecration of Bishops, this resplendent mitre was worn by H.H. Pope Paul VI and later presented by the Holy Father to H.E. Valerian Cardinal Gracias as a token of his love and affection. The ornamentation includes a decorative plant like motif which branches out from the central axis. The embroidered symmetrical design on the mitre is complemented with precious stones strewn in the center. The Papal Coat of Arms on its fanons enhances its historic beauty.


On December 5, 1964, the day of departure, the Holy Father visited Bandra’s famous shrine, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount. A canopy of festoons and garlands, bunting, banners and fishing nets covered the route as ‘men, women and children cheered wildly and nuns climbed the iron railing of their convent compounds to wave handkerchiefs at the passing Pontiff.’ (Examiner, 1964). Inside the shrine, the Pope prayed and presented to Bishop Longinus a sparkling crystal rosary among other souvenirs.


After celebrating the Eucharist in the precincts of ‘St. Xavier’s Gymkhana’ for a crowd of more than 40,000 people, Pope Paul VI crossed the street into the Church of St. Paul where the sick and infirm had gathered. He blessed them and gave them holy pictures. A chalice was then presented to the priest who served the parish. The gilded cup has a globular knop of five amber stones on a base of onyx. The stem is ornamented with the staurogram, the symbol of the Cross used by the early Church.


A traditional language since the Late Middle Ages, the Papal Coat of Arms is the personal heraldry of the Popes of the Catholic Church. It includes symbolic vocabulary relating to the Holy Father’s personal background and beliefs. The Coat of Arms of St. Pope Paul VI was seen featured above the Papal Chair set on the gigantic altar build on the Oval Maidan, the centre of the Congress events.

The Pontifical insignia depicts the Triregnum with the crossed keys set behind a red shield. The colour red signifies martyrdom, alluding to the ‘Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the people.’ The three fleur-de-lis (flower of Lily) represent the Trinity while also recalling the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The six small hills at the base of the herald are reminiscent of the ancestral origins of Cardinal Montini (later Pope Paul VI). The word ‘Montini’ can be traced to its Italian counterpart signifying ‘little mountains’.

It was not just the great events of the Holy Father’s visit that caught the public imagination but rather his simplicity, generosity and the little human things that he did that won the heart of India. Right from his concern for the photographer who died in an accident, to his swiftness to come to the aid of anyone young and old, to going down on his knees to give communion to little orphans, to his compassion for the sick and the blind, to his tears at the sight of suffering and poverty and his abandonment of prepared speeches in favour of an interpreter so that he could spontaneously speak his heart out; Pope Paul VI in his very own words left his heart in India. (‘We feel ourselves to share in a moral citizenship with this land which we will ever love. Here we leave our heart!’ –Pope Paul VI)

With a gracious Namaste as the Pope left for Rome he left behind in a million hearts a memory that is in itself a benediction – the paternal benediction of a Pope, the evermore affectionate intercession of a Saint!

(Sources: Pictorial Souvenir and Volume 1 and 2 on the 38th International Eucharistic Congress, 1964)

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