In a homily that he delivered during a daily Mass at his residence, Pope Francis recalled the sacrifices of believers during the years of the Second World War and the Holocaust. He said, “Consider Rome. During the height of the war, so many people took risks, beginning with Pope Pius XII, to hide the Jews so that they wouldn’t be killed, so that they wouldn’t be deported! They risked their necks! It was a work of mercy to save the lives of those people!”
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) was criticized especially by leftists after the Second World War for supposedly not speaking strongly enough against the deportation and murder of Jews during the Holocaust. This thesis was promoted by a play written by German playwright Rolf Hochhüth, “The Representative,” in 1963, and then by a film by Costa-Gavras, “Amen”, in 2002. The thesis was debunked by a book co-authored by a former Romanian spymaster, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the author of “Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism ,” published by WND Books. The book reveals that the smear of Pope Pius XII was part of a broad Soviet disinformation campaign against the Catholic Church, Israel, and the United States.
Pope Benedict XVI decided in 2009 to proclaim “the heroic virtues” of Pius XII, thus declaring him Venerable. However, the process of beatification has not advanced.
According to the testimonies of Jews, new documents, and newly-opened archives, Pius XII helped 63 percent of the Jews, or two-thirds of the 9,975 (8,000 Romans and 1,975 foreigners) who were in Rome during the Nazi persecution.
In his homily, Pope Francis extolled the work of Pope Pius XII and said performing the works of mercy is not limited to giving alms. Rather, for all of us it means sharing in the suffering of others, even at personal cost to ourselves.
The pope’s homily
In a reflection on First Reading from the Book of Tobit, the Pope noted how Tobit was wept at the murder of a Jewish kinsman, whose body he brought inside to bury after sunset. Pope Francis reflected on the seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy, such as burying the dead and visiting the sick and imprisoned, while saying that performing them properly means not just sharing what we possess, but also sharing in the sufferings of others.
We do not do works of mercy to assuage our consciences, to make ourselves feel better, the Pope said. The merciful person is he who has pity on others and shares in their suffering. “We must ask ourselves,” Pope Francis said: “Do I know how to share? Am I generous? When I see someone in trouble, do I suffer too? Am I able to put myself in another person’s shoes?”
The Pope continued, noting how, in the Old Testament reading, the Jews had been deported to Assyria and were not allowed a proper burial. Therefore, Tobit risked being killed too. We must also take risks as we carry out works of mercy.
Pope Francis spoke of all those people, beginning with Pope Pius XII, who risked their own lives during the Second World War to save Jews from deportation and death.
Those who perform works of mercy must take risks, and may even be mocked by others, just as Tobit was mocked by his neighbors. Performing works of mercy also means being willing to be inconvenienced, the Pope said, just as Jesus Christ was inconvenienced – all the way to the Cross – to show mercy to us.
Pope Francis said we perform works of mercy for others, because we know that we have been shown mercy by Our Lord. “The works of mercy,” the Pope concluded, “keep us from selfish behavior and help us imitate Jesus more closely.”