"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Personal Essay: Pope Pius XII

In another era of my life I spent a good deal of my internet time on a literature website, and one of the things that got my ire was arguing with atheists over...well, over everything to do with religion.  There were quite a few of the rabid, vociferous, dumb-as-crap kind that had no understanding of Christianity at all.  Their whole modus operandi was to spew out some uneducated, trite common misconception and find reason to blame religion, if not Christianity directly, and then ridicule.  It was probably the single biggest reason for leaving that website.

One particular discussion had to do with Hitler's supposed religious reasons for exterminating six million Jews.  Well, it's quite clear that Adolph Hitler was an adamant atheist, and whatever pitches he made to the religious communities for support were strictly based on political considerations.  Of course politicians do that; it's part of the political game.  You can read about his private, religious views here.  

But what really got my goat was the supposed slander to the Vatican and Pope Pius XII, who they claimed was in cahoots with Nazi Germany.  Nothing was farther from the truth.  In recent years studies have come out that just how involved Pope Pius XII was doing all he could to save as many Jews as possible.  I think there's at least one published book on it out there now.  But I recently came across a retrospective on Pope Pius XII's 80th anniversary of his election to the Papacy from The Catholic League, here On the webpage there is a timeline of what people said about Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church in its opposition to the Nazis.  It's well worth reproducing:

In the December 23, 1940 issue of Time magazine, Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, "Being a lover of freedom, when the Nazi revolution came to Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, but the universities were immediately silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks....Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth."

In its Christmas Day editorial, the New York Times said, "The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas."

In its Christmas Day editorial, the New York Times wrote, "No Christmas sermon reaches a larger congregation than the message Pope Pius XII addresses to a war-torn world this season."

Hitler's biographer, John Toland, said, "The Church, under the Pope's guidance, had already saved the lives of more Jews than all other churches, religious institutions, and rescue organizations combined, and was presently hiding thousands of Jews in monasteries, convents, and Vatican City itself."

Speaking about events in 1943, Sir Martin Gilbert, perhaps the foremost historian of the Holocaust, noted that "the test for Pacelli [Pope Pius XII] was when the Gestapo came to Rome in 1943 to round up Jews. And the Catholic Church, on his direct authority, immediately dispersed as many Jews as they could."

In 1943, the World Jewish Congress thanked the pope for persuading Italian authorities to remove 20,000 Jewish refugees from internment camps in Northern Italy.

On July 25, 1943, Hitler began his plan to kidnap the "Jew-loving" pope.

Jewish scholar Jeno Levai describes what happened in the spring of 1944 in Hungary. "Over 20,000 passports had been issued by the papal Nuncio-on the average of 500 a day."

Israele Anton Zolli, the Chief Rabbi in Rome, converted to Catholicism. He explained why in his book, Why I Became a Catholic. "No hero in history has commanded such an army; none is more militant, more fought against, none more heroic than that conducted by Pius XII in the name of Christian Charity." He chose the name Eugenio as his baptismal name.

When the pope died, Golda Meir, Israel's foreign minister (she would later become prime minister), telegraphed the Vatican saying, "When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace."

Among the Jewish organizations that praised the pope were the following: Anti-Defamation League, the Synagogue Council of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, the New York Board of Rabbis, the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Former Israeli diplomat and author Pinchas Lapide estimated that approximately 860,000 Jewish lives were saved by Pope Pius XII. One thing is certain: no leader, religious or secular, did more to save Jews than Pope Pius XII. He is more than a "Righteous Gentile"-he deserves to be made a saint.

860,000 is almost one sixth of all those that perished.  But Christians didn't try to subvert Hitler's plans only from a distant location.  Many tried to do what they could in face to face encounters with the subsequent results of hundreds of martyrs that we know of.  The two I'm most familiar with are St.Maximilian Kolbe and St. Edith Stein.  

And it wasn't just Catholics who opposed Hitler.  There was plenty of Protestant Christians.  I don't mean to slight them, but I'm just not as familiar with them.  But we should all know of the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a sibling pair I just recently read about, Hans and Sophie Scholl.  This brother and sister were both guillotined, of all ways to be executed in the 20th century, for attempting to spread the truth about the Nazis.  From Crises Magazine:

Seventy-five years ago, Hans and Sophie Scholl were guillotined, just four days after the janitor at the University of Munich caught them distributing anti-Nazi fliers. She was 21, he 24, but they went to their death courageously, peacefully. They had stood up against the lies of the Third Reich, its contempt for human life, especially for that of the Jews, its murderous wars, and the brainwashing of its citizens. The Scholl siblings are honored today for their courageous resistance. But attention is not drawn sufficiently to the source of their strength, namely their deep faith in God.

It's well worth reading the entire piece.  Actually the guillotine is a good reminder of that other atheistic blood sport, commonly called the French Revolution.  The reason that western culture has created the notion of human dignity and reverence for the individual is directly a result of our Christian past, with of course its roots being in Judaism. 

I await the day Eugenio Pacelli as Pope Pius XII will be canonized as saint.

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