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Pope Pius XII

One of the ironies of living in today’s Catholic world is that while some people are falling all over themselves to get John Paul II canonized, there are those others who still believe the Black Legend that Pope Pius XII, also up for canonization, did not do enough for European Jews during the Holocaust.

Reuters has an article up about a letter that was recently sent to His Holiness by a group of Catholic scholars from the United States and elsewhere. In their letter, the group “implores” His Holiness to stop the Process of Canonization because it would damage relations between Catholics and Jews.

As many of you will know, this kind of appeal is nothing new. Smear campaigns against the memory of Pope Pius XII have been around for years. Yet few people know that he tried as hard as he could to save as many Jews as possible.  Take the following story as an example about the Allied bombardment of Rome:

There were many Jews. On September 28, the Chief Rabbi of Rome sought the aid of the Holy Father. THe Nazis and neo-Fascists had demanded the tremendous ransom of 1,00,000 lire and one hundred pounds of gold from the Jewish residents with threat of looting their homes and enslaving them. The Jews of Rome raised the lire, but they simply did not have that much of the precious metal. Could the Pope help them?

Pius did not hesitate. Within twenty-four hours, the ransom was paid. Though he never told anyone how the gold was obtained, it is known that he ordered holy vessels melted down to provide the funds for this most Christ-like succor of those of an alien faith.

But the gold sacrifice bought not safety, but only a respite for the Jews. Soon the methodical pogrom began again. Jewish houses and stores  were smashed and looted by the neo-Fascists; Jewish families were broken up, their men-folk shipped into slavery in northern Italy and Germany; the women and children left without sustenance or shelter. Hundreds sought protection in the Vatican. Among them was Chief Rabbi Zolli himself.

Two years later, after the invader had gone and ITaly was once more free, the Chief Rabbi of Rome embraced the Catholic faith.  (Hatch and Walshe. Crown of Glory: The Life of Pope Pius XII. Hawthorn, 1958.)

In reading this account of Pope Pius XII’s efforts on behalf of the Jews, we should come to acknowledge that the myth of Hitler’s pope is just that. A myth.

As for Pope Pius XII himself, he was one of the greatest shepherds our Church has known in recent decades. He sacrificed himself so that the flock of Christ would be preserved throughout the world by fighting a war on two fronts against Communism and Fascism. Such a man deserves our deepest admiration and thanks.

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