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The Charity of Pope Pius XII

by Eugenio Zolli

Description

An excerpt of Eugenio Zolli's autobiography, Before the Dawn about the deep respect he has for Pope Pius XII's work during World War II.

Larger Work

Inside the Vatican

Pages

82-83

Publisher & Date

Urbi et Orbi Communications, February 1999

In this passage from his autobiography, Eugenio Zolli says he did not convert out of gratitude towards Pius XII (his conversion had deeper, more mystical roots), but that he deeply respects the Pope's work during World War II.

"Did you become a convert out of gratitude towards the Pope, who did so much for the Jews of Italy during the Nazi persecution?" This question was addressed to me, and still is, by reporters. In many interviews (inaccurate or invented) they describe me as answering in the affirmative. Why? I suppose to please readers by providing them with a precise and pleasing explanation. In reality my reply has always been in the negative, but this ought not to be interpreted as a lack of gratitude.

...At the very hour in which the terrible sacrificial rite of blood was initiated, the destruction en masse in the name of race, of nation, of the state, concentrating the three into one factor: "blood" — precisely then, in the midst of so many fanatics, the great Pontiff, unique, serene and wise, exclaims: "But the legitimate and just love towards one's own country must not close the eyes to the universality of Christian charity which also considers others and their prosperity in the pacifying light of love!"

...Volumes could be written on the multiform works of succour of Pius XII... Who could ever tell what has been done? The rule of severe enclosure falls, everything and all things are at the service of charity. As the sufferings grow, so grows the light from the heart of Christ, and from His Vicar: more vigilant and ready for sacrifice and martyrdom are his sons and daughters in Christ. Young Levites and white-haired priests, religious of alt orders, in all lands, dedicated Sisters, all in quest of good works and ready for sacrifice. There are no barriers, no distinctions. All sufferers are children of God in the eyes of the Church, children in Christ, for them and with them all suffer and die. 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.

An old priest, who could do nothing further, gathered around him in the church the women and children of the village (the men had been slaughtered outside the village) so that they might die together in the presence of the crucifix. His dead body is thrown upon the altar, where once he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice, and there he lies, himself sacrificed. An army of priests works in cities and small towns to provide bread for the persecuted and passports for the fugitives. Sisters go into unheated canteens to give hospitality to women refugees. Orphans of all nations and religions are gathered together and cared for. No economic sacrifice is considered too great to help the innocent to flee to foreign lands from those who seek their death. A religious, a most learned man, works incessantly to save Jews, and himself dies a martyr. Sisters endure hunger to feed the refugees. Superiors go out in the night to meet strange soldiers who demand victims. They manage, at the risk of their lives, to convey the impression that they have none — they, who have several in their care.

The attic of one of the great churches in the center of Rome is divided into many sections, each bearing the name of the saint in whose honor the altar below is dedicated. The refugees are divided for the distribution of food into groups according to the names of these saints. Must not the soul of the saint rejoice in such a tribute? Schools, administrative offices, churches, convents all have their guests....

At the first hour of his pontificate Pius XII said: "Exactly in times like these, he who remains firm in his faith and strong in his heart, knows that Christ the King is never so near as in trial, which is the hour of fidelity. With a heart broken by the suffering of so many of her children, but with the courage and firmness that come from faith in the Lord's promises, the Spouse of Christ [the Church], advances towards the approaching storm. She knows that the truth she announces, the charity she teaches, and its practice will be the unique counsellors and collaborators of men of good will in the reconstruction of a new world, in justice and love, after humanity, weary of running in the way of error, will have tasted the bitter fruit of hatred and of violence."

Many are the books by statisticians, generals, journalists, and many are the memoirs of individuals concerning this great war. The archives hold quantities of material for future historians. But who, outside of God in heaven, has gathered into his heart the sorrows and the groans of all the injured? Like a watchful sentinel before the sacred inheritance of human pain stands the angelic Pastor, Pius XII. He has seen the abyss of misfortune towards which humanity is advancing. He has measured and foretold the greatness of the tragedy. He has made himself the herald of the serene voice of justice and the defender of true peace....

I did not hesitate to give a negative answer to the question whether I was converted in gratitude to Pius XII for his numberless acts of charity. Nevertheless, I do feel the duty of rendering homage and of affirming that the charity of the Gospel was the light that showed the way to my old and weary heart. It is the charity that so often shines in the history of the Church and which radiated fully in the actions of the reigning Pontiff.


— from Before the Dawn, Chapter 17 (The book is available from Inside the Vatican)

© Dr. Robert Moynihan, Editor, Inside the Vatican Magazine

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