Among thousands of the faithful, including “Synodal Fathers” from around the world, Benedict XVI led the Mass in St Peter’s Basilica for the 50th anniversary of the death of the Pope who cried “Nothing is lost with peace; everything can be lost with war.” Fifty years after the death of Pius XII on 9 October 1958 Benedict XVI is praying that his cause for beatification may “continue smoothly.” He also looked at his predecessor’s actions on behalf of the persecuted, Jews included, which Israeli leaders have acknowledged, also focusing on his magisterial action which led Paul VI to consider him a “precursor” of the Second Vatican Council whose documents cite him 188 times.
Benedict XVI draws the portrait of a pope, the last one born in Rome, by looking first at his personal and ascetic side, inspired by the Book of Sirach which was read during the Mass and which says that those who want to follow the Lord must prepare themselves for trials, difficulties and suffering, and by Saint Peter who exhorted the Christians of Asia Minor to “rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials” (1 Pt, 1:6).
“In light of these Biblical texts we can read about the earthly life of Pope Pacelli,” said the Pope. They “can help us, above all, to understand the source from which he drew courage and patience for his pontifical ministry during the troubled years of the Second World War and those that followed, no less complex, of reconstruction and difficult international relations known as the “Cold War’.”
In discussing Pope Pacelli’s life the Holy Father looked among other things at his actions as nuncio in Germany where “he left behind grateful memories, especially for his cooperation with Benedict XV in trying the stop the “useless slaughter” of the Great War and his early understanding of the danger of the monstrous ideology of National Socialism and its pernicious anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic roots.”
But Pius XII’s work is especially linked to the period of the Second World War. And here Benedict XVI firmly laid claim to what Pope Pacelli actually did on behalf of Jews.
“The war highlighted the love he felt for his ‘beloved Rome’, love expressed in the great charitable work he undertook on behalf of the persecuted without distinction of religion, ethnicity, nationality or political leanings. When, once the city was occupied, he was repeatedly advised to leave the Vatican to save himself, his answer was resolutely always the same: "I will not leave Rome and my post, even at the cost of my life” (cf Summarium, p.186)”.
“How can we forget his radio message of Christmas 1942?” said the Pope. “In a voice stirred by emotion he deplored the situation of “hundreds of thousands of people who through no fault of their own, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, are bound for death or who slowly waste away (AAS, XXXV, 1943, p. 23), a clear reference to the deportation and extermination of the Jews. He often acted secretly and in silence because, given the actual situation of that complex historical moment, he saw that this was the only way to avoid the worse and save as many Jews as possible. At the end of the war and at the time of his death because of his many actions he received many and unanimous expressions of gratitude from the highest authorities of the Jewish world, people like Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir who wrote: “During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and commiserate with their victims,” ending by movingly saying “We mourn a great servant of peace.”
Unfortunately the historical debate over the Servant of God Pius XII, which has not always been untroubled, has overlooked all the aspects of his multi-faceted pontificate.”
But Pius XII must also be remembered for his vast magisterial work. “He delivered many speeches, addresses and messages to scientists, doctors and people from a variety of walks of life, some of which are still extraordinarily relevant today and continue to be concrete points of reference.”
Paul VI, who was a faithful aide for many years, described him as an erudite, an attentive scholar, open to modern ways of research and culture, with an ever-strong and coherent faith in the principles of human reasoning as well as in the intangible repository of the faith’s truths. He considered him a precursor to the Second Vatican Council (cf the Angelus of 10 March 1974)”.
Among the many writings that “deserve mentioning” Benedict XVI cited “the Encyclical Mystici Corporis, released on 29 June 1943 when the war was still raging, in which he described the spiritual and visible relationships that unite men to the Word Incarnate and proposed integrating this perspective to all the main themes of ecclesiology, offering for the first time a dogmatic and theological synthesis that would provide the basis for the Conciliar Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium.”
“How can we not mention the considerable impetus this pontiff gave to the Church’s missionary activity with the Encyclicals Evangelii praecones (1951) and Fidei donum (1957), in which he stressed the duty of each community to announce the Gospels to the nations, as the Second Vatican Council would do, with courageous vigour.”
“Lastly one of his constant pastoral concerns was the promotion of the role of lay people so that the Church community could take advantage of all the energy and resources available. For this too the Church and the world are grateful to him.”
Pope Pacelli, Benedict XVI finally said, “promoted the causes of beatification and canonisation of people from different nations, representatives of all walks of life, roles and professions, especially given much space to women. And it was in Mary, the Woman of Salvation, whom he offered to humanity as a sign of certain hope, proclaiming the dogma of the Assumption in the Holy Year of 1950.
In this world of ours, which, like that of Pope Pacelli’s time, is dogged by worries and anxieties about its future, in this world more than then where the departure from truth and virtue by many shows us scenarios without hope, Pius XII urged us to turn to Mary, who was assumed in the Glory of Heaven. He urged us to call upon her with confidence so that she may let us appreciate the value of life on earth and turn towards the true goal to which we are destined, that of eternal life which, as Jesus assured us, is already part of those who hear and heed his word.”