Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Pius XII, one of the greatest popes of the twentieth century and, as seen by some traditionalist Catholics, as the last true pope before Vatican II.
In our time, it is difficult for us to imagine a Pope who spent most of his pontificate in Rome and its surroundings. Pope Pius XII was not a globe trotter in the grand tradition of John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Rather, he was a man who conducted business from Rome. Yet, as so many people know about the Vatican, his business was every Catholic’s business and his pontificate impacted Catholics in every country of the world including those enslaved by Communist rulers.
Pope Pius XII’s pontificate can be seen as the culmination of much that had come before. Like St. Pius X, whom he canonized, and Benedict XV, Pius XII sought peace in the world at any price. Like Pius X, he was a visionary and a man that was thoroughly of his own time. His voice could be heard over the airwaves of Vatican radio and his visage could regularly be seen in movie theaters and on the television. His encyclicals, contrary to popular belief, talked about contemporary evils that are stil with us today such as modernism, naturalism,and others. He also wrote numerous addresses on family life as well as dogmatic definitions such as that of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Indeed, he accomplished more during his nineteen years on the Chair of Peter than most do during a lifetime.
In today’s world, beset by so many evils and enemies, Pius XII’s reputation has been besmirched over and over again. He was not, as one writer said, Hitler’s pope. Indeed, Pius XII was nothing of the kind. Rather, he even gave shelter to Roman and Italian Jews in the Vatican and encouraged other Catholcis to do so at the risk of their own lives. Although I do not remember the precise details, there was a line in Rome through which a person could cross and be on safe territory because it belonged to the Vatican.
Yet Pius XII should not be seen as a reactionary pope or one that suffered from the purported medievalism that so many people saw the Church suffering from in the years prior to Vatican II. Nothing of the sort can be seen when one reads numerous biographies. He was a man thoroughly of his time and a diplomat, who understood the world situation much better than most politicians have since. He saw the evil of Communism and staunchly the defended the Church against it. He also saw the evil of fascism and prayed that it would be defeated. He saw the end of the first with the surrender of Germany in 1945, while the second did not collapse until some thirty years after his death. Yet these things did occur and some of the results can be attributed to his inspiration.
What else is there that can be said about Pius XII? Perhaps, the most important thing that we must remember today is that he was truly a martyr for what he believed. His responsibility and that of every Pope is great and burdensome. Living during the turbulent times in which he did, it was God’s Will that Pope Pius XII suffer for Holy Mother Church. His suffering was not only mental, but it was also physical. Many have felt that the rise of Communism was something hastened his death. Yet we must also remember that when he was so overwhelmed by world events and illness that he thought about resigning, Our Lord Himself appeared to Pope Pius XII and encouraged him in his illness.
In our own day, we are seeing the things that Pius XII wrote against being taken to their logical conclusions. The family has collapsed to a greater or lesser extent, modernism and naturalism reign. Yet we must remember that all is not lost nor will it ever be. The world has lived through worse periods and so has the Church.
Let us pray to Our Lord for the conversion of the world and for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which Pius XII so ardently desired.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.