Sunday, October 12, 2008

Remembering the Pastor Angelicus

Pope Pius XII, the Angelic Pastor who Shepherded the Catholic Church during the difficult times of the 2nd World War and the uncertain post-war years is fondly remembered by many for the peaceful and flourishing Church which he left to Pope John XXIII. Vocations were thriving, Catholics attended Mass and all the indicators predicted a booming and growing Church.

From the Vatican Information Service:


VATICAN CITY, 9 OCT 2008 (VIS) - In the Vatican Basilica this morning, the Pope presided at a Eucharistic concelebration with cardinals for the anniversary of the death of Pius XII.

Referring to the readings of the Mass, the Holy Father indicated in his homily that the Book of Sirach "reminds those who intend to follow the Lord that they must prepare themselves to face difficult trials and sufferings". He also suggested that in the light of this biblical text "we may examine the earthly life" of Pope Pius XII and his pontifical ministry, which coincided with World War II and with the Cold War.

Benedict XVI spoke of Pius XII's long service to the Church, which began under Leo XIII in 1901, then continued under St. Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI.

"In Germany, where he was apostolic nuncio ... until 1929", said the Pope, "he left grateful memories behind him, especially for having collaborated with Benedict XV in the attempt to stop the 'useless massacre' of the Great War, and for having understood from the start the danger of the monstrous national-socialist ideology with its pernicious anti-Semite and anti-Catholic roots. Created a cardinal in 1929 and shortly afterwards secretary of State, for nine years he was Pius XI's faithful collaborator in a period characterised by various forms of totalitarianism: the fascist, the nazi and that of Soviet communism, condemned, respectively, in the Encyclicals: 'Non abbiamo bisogno', 'Mit Brennender Sorge', and 'Divini Redemptoris'".

Benedict XVI then went on to recall "the most difficult moments of Pius XII's pontificate when, aware that all forms of human security were giving way, he felt the powerful need ... to remain with Christ, the only certainty that never fails. The Word of God illuminated his journey, ... during which ... he had to console the displaced and the persecuted ... and weep the countless victims of the war".

"This awareness accompanied Pius XII in his ministry as Peter's Successor, a ministry that began precisely at the moment in which the threatening clouds of a new global conflict were gathering over Europe and the rest of the world; a conflict that he sought in every way to evade. 'The danger is imminent, yet there is still time. Nothing is lost with peace. Everything may be lost with war', he cried out in a radio message on 24 August 1939.

"The war underscored the love he nourished for his 'adored Rome'", the Holy Father added, "a love made manifest in the intensity with which he promoted works of charity in defence of the persecuted, with no distinction of religion, ethnicity, nationality or political views. ... How can we forget his radio message of Christmas 1942? His voice breaking with emotion, he deplored the situation of 'the hundreds of thousands of people who, with no individual blame, are sometimes, because of their nationality or race, destined for death or progressive exploitation', a clear allusion to the deportations and extermination being perpetrated against the Jews".

Pius XII "often acted secretly and silently because, in the real situations of that complex moment in history, he had an intuition that only in this way would he be able to avoid the worst, and to save the largest possible number of Jews".

The Pope indicated that the historical debate over the figure of Pius XII "has not thrown light on all aspects of his multifaceted pontificate". In this context he recalled the numerous messages and discourses his predecessor had given to all categories of people, "some of which are still extraordinarily relevant even today, and continue to provide a sure point of reference. Paul VI ... considered him to be the precursor of Vatican Council II".

Referring then to some of Pius XII's documents, the Holy Father recalled the Encyclicals "Mystici Corporis" of June 1943, and "Divino afflante Spiritu" of September of the same year which "established the doctrinal norms for the study of Holy Scripture, emphasising its importance and role in Christian life. It is a document that gives evidence of great openness towards scientific research into biblical texts", he said.

Benedict XVI also mentioned the Encyclical "Mediator Dei" which was published in November 1947 and concerns the liturgy. There, he said, "the Servant of God promoted the liturgical movement, highlighting the 'essential element of worship', which 'must be the interior element. It is, in fact, necessary', he wrote, 'always to live in Christ, to dedicate oneself entirely to Him, so that in Him, with Him and for Him glory is rendered unto God".

After mentioning "the notable impulse this Pontiff gave to the Church's missionary activity with the Encyclicals 'Evangelii praecones' (1951) and 'Fidei donum' (1957)", the Holy Father pointed out that one of Pius XII's "constant pastoral concerns was the promotion of the laity, so that the ecclesial community could make use of all available energies and resources. For this too the Church and the world are grateful".

"As we pray that the cause of beatification of Servant of God Pius XII may continue favourably, it is as well to recall that sanctity was his ideal, an ideal he did not fail to propose to everybody".

The Pope concluded by pointing out that during the Holy Year 1950, Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin. "In this world of ours which, as then, is assailed by concerns and anguish for the future; in this world where, perhaps more now than then, the abandonment of truth and virtue by many people gives us glimpses of scenarios without hope, Pius XII invites us to turn our gaze to Mary, assumed in heavenly glory".

Following the Mass, the Holy Father went down to the Vatican Grottoes to pray before the tomb of Pius XII.

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