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Pope Pius: A towering European saint

A symbolic catafalque in honour of Pope Pius XII at St George's basilica, Gozo, set up for a funeral Mass that was said on October 12, 1958.

A symbolic catafalque in honour of Pope Pius XII at St George's basilica, Gozo, set up for a funeral Mass that was said on October 12, 1958.

Writing in a recent issue of The Tablet about a 1949 audience granted to the crew of his warship, an ex-British naval officer speaks of the "experience" of holiness he felt in the presence of Pope Pius XII. "Nothing will shake my conviction," he said, "that I was in the presence of great sanctity" (September 27).

Today, the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII's death, Pope Benedict XVI will, no doubt, speak of his predecessor in terms that may be less glowing but not less significant than those printed by Time magazine in 1958: "Men of all faiths agreed that Pius XII had been a great Pope".

Pius XII served in an age of terrible agonies for civilisation. His papacy started at the threshold of a war that would tear up the fabric of the European continent, deface it by the horrific holocaust of its Jewish citizenry and cause untold human suffering and cultural destruction.

It is ironic that, notwithstanding all that he did for the survival of European civilisation, the triumph of life over death, and the renovation of traditional Christianity, Pope Pius XII is so maligned, not, of course, for what he did but for what it is claimed that he should have said "and did not say". No wartime leader has been scrutinised, and subjected to revisionism, as he has been. Luckily written testimonials remain. To cite just one, the December 25, 1942 editorial of The New York Times, which declares: "The voice of Pius XII is a lonely voice in the silence and darkness enveloping Europe this Christmas. He is about the only ruler left on the continent of Europe who dares to raise his voice at all".

Pope Pius XII also deserves recognition as a great benefactor of humanity and of European civilisation. A Christian European visionary if there was one, he was convinced that it was the de-Christianisation of public life that contributed most to the tragedy of the worldwide conflict. After the war he encouraged fellow Catholics Alcide de Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schumann to strike the trail of European unity.

In time truth shall prevail and Pope Pius XII will be vindicated. He will be credited not only for what he did, and said, but also for what he was in heroic human virtue and outstanding Christian holiness.

It may not be politically correct, as the cliché goes, to promote his beatification. The fallout for the Church could be severe, providing his detractors with more fodder for defamation.

A more important consideration is the sadness that Pope Pius XII's beatification may cause our Jewish brethren who have been conditioned to feel betrayed by him. These are indeed the real victims of Hochhuth's 1963 The Deputy and Cornwell's Hitler's Pope (1999), to mention just the most infamous of his slanderers.

As Pope Benedict XVI said only recently: "When one draws close to this noble Pope, free from ideological prejudices, in addition to being struck by his lofty spiritual and human character one is also captivated by the example of his life and the extraordinary richness of his teaching" (Castel Gandolfo September 18).

Reporting his funeral cortege through the city of Rome, Time magazine relates how the thousands of onlookers were already talking about his canonisation. It ends the report by saying that whatever future Church tribunals "may decide about his saintliness, millions who saw him or heard his words will require no visions, no miracles beyond the fact that Pius XII was able to make a tormented world feel the attraction of Christian goodness".

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