Society That Thinks Pope Pius XII Rules

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Pius Life

The Sanctity of Pius XII

- by Sr. Margherita Marchione

The Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints will soon begin an examination of the Positio [the multi-volume biography and documented testimony] on the beatification of Pius XII. With regard to Pius XII's sanctity, Father Peter Gumpel, relator, judge, and leading authority on this process, recently stated: "After reading over 100,000 pages of the documents related to the process of beatification, I am more and more convinced that Pius XII was a saint."

A beatification is strictly an internal affair of the Catholic Church. This is not an honorary title. It is the declaration of an individual's holiness. The requirements for beatification and canonization demand years of investigation. The life of the individual is scrutinized; documentation of his heroic virtues is made available to the Congregation; miracles attributed to his intercession are scientifically examined. This is done through the work of collecting testimonials and documentaries as well as through theological and medical assessments. The moral certainty and the formulation of a judgment must be well-founded, serious and precise. Finally, the case must be submitted to the Holy Father who decides on the promulgation of the decree.

Since the beginning of the year 2005, there has been an increased interest in the beatification of Pope Pius XII among Catholics throughout the world. Pius XII was a man of deep faith and extraordinary charity. As has been copiously documented by my books and others, no other head of state or religious leader before, during, and after World War II did as much as Eugenio Pacelli to save Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution. In his famous book, Three Popes and the Jews (1967), Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide did not hesitate to estimate that "the Catholic Church, under the pontificate of Pius XII, was instrumental in saving at least 700,000 but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands."

More recently, Sir Martin Gilbert, the world's leading Holocaust researcher, stated that such life-saving acts were not accomplished spontaneously, as if they were totally independent from the Vatican (as Pius's detractors have argued), but were being guided and inspired by Pius XII: "Hundreds of thousands of Jews, saved by the entire Catholic Church, under the leadership and with the support of Pius XII, would, to my mind, be absolutely correct." ("Inside the Vatican," August, 2003, p. 31)

Eugenio Pacelli was the Pope during a tragic period of history. He was a model of sanctity. In him was manifested the heroism of the one who works under extreme responsibility: it was the sanctity that flows from decisive action in the face of total warfare; a sanctity that knows it cannot stop because of Nazi threats of kidnapping and death. The miracle of Pius XII is that, because of him, the house built upon the rock (Mt. 7:24) -- the Church -- which he kept intact during a period of the most radical evil, was capable of providing shelter and protection for millions of Europeans, including hundreds of thousands of persecuted Jews.

Pope Pius XII is a lofty model of charismatic responsibility and rational rigor, of which we have a tremendous need in today's world. When he passed away on October 9, 1958, an editorial "Fighter for Peace" in the "Los Angeles Examiner," expressed the sentiments of Catholics and non-Catholics: "It was God's will that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church through years of grave trial should be a man with beautifully sensitive hands, a face of compassionate wisdom, a frail body, and a voice of quiet and profound solace.

"Yet this Pope's hands could clench in battle, his face could be that of a warrior, his body could endure the rigors of disease and the erosion of the years, his voice could thrust like steel against Godless Communism. The incredible strength of the Spirit lived beneath that delicacy of manner, that fragility of frame.

"Pius XII was known as 'the Pope of Peace.' He called himself a fighter for peace. His self-description was more accurate, for the years of his reign, beginning in March, 1939, were those of the horrible violence of war or the stealth and treachery of Communist evil. It was in these and through these continuous ordeals that the gentle and ascetic scholar became God's warrior; a bulwark against despair, a magnificent fighter for peace, a repository of the hopes of mankind.

"Never, during these troubled years, did Pius XII lose his gift of gracious beneficence. No other Pope received so many people. They numbered many millions. Whether the audiences were large or small, he conveyed a sense of intimacy and understanding. His gifts to them were hope and courage. This fighter for peace is now in peace with God."

There are volumes of depositions for the beatification of Pius XII. His sanctity has been recorded.

Pius XII was a humble person who did not want his many good works and accomplishments revealed. Respecting his wishes, Sister Pascalina Lehnert -- his housekeeper -- quietly implemented the Pope's charitable works, serving him faithfully from 1923-1958. Only after his death, in her memoirs and deposition to the Congregation, did Sister Pascalina reveal Pius's extraordinary courage and charity.

As early as 1929, when he was still nuncio to Germany, and four years before Hitler came to power, Sister Pascalina remembers how Archbishop Pacelli warned that Hitler was a "madman," capable of destroying everything that went before him; and she describes how the Nuncio criticized Germans who refused to recognize the evil Hitler represented. (See Pascalina's memoirs, Pio XII, il privilegio di servirlo [Milan: Rusconi, 1984]).

Ten years later, after Pacelli became Pope Pius XII, Sister Pascalina describes how the pontiff continued to fight Hitler with every fiber of his being, and how Pius went out of his way to assist the victims of the Third Reich. In her testimony before the Congregation (Session CLXIII, March 17, 1972), Sister Pascalina stated: "The Pope not only opened the doors of the Vatican to protect the persecuted, but he encouraged convents and monasteries to offer hospitality. The Vatican provided provisions for these people. The accusation that Pius XII was indifferent to the needs of the victims is without foundation. He ordered me to spend his inheritance and personal funds to provide for those who wished to leave Italy and go to Canada, Brazil, or elsewhere. Note that $800 was needed for each person who emigrated. Many times the Pope would ask me to deliver to Jewish families a sealed envelope containing $1,000 or more."

Pius XII's pontificate left a lasting mark on the history of the Catholic Church. His life was one of action, inspired by profound piety. He brought consolation, peace and encouragement everywhere. He instituted numerous liturgical reforms: the evening Mass, the new Eucharistic fast regulations and increased lay participation in liturgical functions. The Eucharistic Liturgy was the source from which Pius XII drew strength and wisdom to lead the world.

Pius XII has been called the "Pope of Mary" for his great devotion to the Mother of God, evidenced in the infallible definition of the Assumption. The consecration of Russia and of the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the solemn proclaiming of the Marian Year, the institution of the feast of the Queenship of Mary, and the proclamation of the Centenary of the Apparitions of Our Blessed Lady to St. Bernadette, were also made by Pius XII.

Pius XII spoke numerous languages, but the only language that inspired others, was the language of his heart. He was a minister of peace in a warring world. When he was told that Stalin inquired about the number of divisions in his army, he said: "You may tell my son Joseph he will meet my divisions in heaven." That was Pacelli's secret. Even of Stalin he could say "my son." And mean it.

Pacelli's prayerfulness was noted throughout his life. Very reserved, he did not speak about his personal spirituality, but whoever approached him would realize that he was in constant union with God. When he died, his acting secretary of state, Monsignor Domenico Tardini, declared: "Often the Church bells would ring at noon during our discussions. Immediately Pius XII would stand, fold his hands, lower his eyes and begin to recite the Angelus Domini."

Those who worked closely with Pius XII claim that he lived a life of exemplary temperance and mortification. He was an ascetic and practiced every virtue in an extraordinary way. He wanted only simple food. His meals were that of a poor person. He ate very little and did not eat desserts. He did not use alcoholic beverages or tobacco. Even though he needed special foods, during the war years he forbade any exceptions for his own meals. His weight was reduced to fifty-seven kilos (125 pounds).

He did not want his apartment heated because thousands of refugees hidden by the Vatican could not have their rooms heated. He slept only four hours each day, after working until two in the morning and getting up at six a.m. Even when the time period for fasting in order to receive Holy Communion was lessened, he continued to observe the original fast regulations. Pope Pius XII weighed everything in light of Gospel revelations and Christian traditions. His official speeches and writings alone amount to more than 22 volumes. He restored Church prestige and provided the faithful and the world with extraordinary leadership.

In 1954, Pius XII became gravely ill. He soon resumed his duties, and continued his mission. and gave four more years of fruitful service to the Church. During his final illness in 1958, as he prepared to meet his Master, when he could no longer celebrate Holy Mass, he repeated constantly the prayer, Anima Christi ["Soul of Christ, Sanctify me, Body of Christ, save me, In the hour of my death, call me."]

Cardinal Angelo Roncalli -- the future Pope John XXIII -- revered Pius XII and gave a eulogy in St. Mark's Basilica, Venice, on October 11, 1958. He recalled the magisterium of Pius XII who "adapted himself to modern thought and progress." He stated that history would recall his example, his messages. As leader of the Catholic Church, his name would be listed among the great and most popular of modern history. In his first Christmas Message (1958), Pope John XXIII unofficially canonized his predecessor and referred to "our Father and Pontiff, whom we see already among God's saints in heaven: Supreme Doctor, Light of Holy Mother Church, Lover of the Divine Law." ("Doctor Optimus, Ecclesiae Sanctae Lumen, Divinae Legis Amator"). In the 1960s, there began an effort to villify the wartime Pope, a campaign which Ralph McInerney has accurately labeled "the defamation of Pius XII." Following the Communists, who fabricated charges against the Pope, in hopes of driving the faithful against him, Pius was subject to the most unscrupulous and un-historical attacks in modern history.

Today, his detractors continue to claim, against all evidence, that he lacked courage, human compassion, and a sense of moral rectitude. Hostile attacks by the uninformed and prejudiced media replace the historical record that showed him as a great leader.

In contrast to the universal esteem Pius XII enjoyed until his death, his reputation today still suffers from many scattered attacks. However, according to Michael Novak, these critics "are deflecting attention from themselves. Today's charges against Pope Pius XII cannot stand scrutiny." What Pius XII did for the Jews directly and indirectly through his diplomatic representatives and the bishops is well documented. At the end of World War II, Dr. Joseph Nathan, representing the Hebrew Commission, addressed the Jewish community, expressing heartfelt gratitude to those who protected and saved Jews during the Nazi-Fascist persecutions. "Above all," he stated, "we acknowledge the Supreme Pontiff and the religious men and women who, executing the directives of the Holy Father, recognized the persecuted as their brothers and, with great abnegation, hastened to help them, disregarding the terrible dangers to which they were exposed." The Romans gave Pope Pius XII the title "Defensor Civitatis" ("Defender of the City"); his contemporaries throughout the world acclaimed him "Pastor Angelicus" ("Angelic Shepherd"). Indeed, "Vox populi, Vox Dei" -- the voice of the people is the voice of God.

Pope Pius XII is a unique figure in modern history. He was an extraordinary man who fulfilled his duties with courage and great wisdom, and who was in his personal life an exemplary Christian, priest, bishop, cardinal, and pope. One of the most distinguished prelates ever to serve the Church, his pontificate achieved a wider respect than it had had since the Reformation. He restored Church prestige and provided the faithful and the world with extraordinary leadership. Pope Pius XII's aspirations toward truth and goodness and his extraordinary achievements may be considered one of the great events of the 20th century. The opinion of many of his contemporaries was that he was a saint. Long after his detractors are forgotten, Eugenio Pacelli will go down in history as one of the great religious leaders of his age, or indeed any age. He will be remembered as St. Pius XII.