ROME, AUG. 26, 2002 (Zenit.org).- A new book aims to recount in photographs Pope Pius XII’s historic role as leader of the Church during World War II.
Sister Margherita Marchione is author of “Shepherd of Souls: A Pictorial Life of Pius XII,” published by the Vatican Press in Italy and the United States.
A professor emeritus of Italian classics and literature at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and author of more than 40 books, Sister Marchione talked with ZENIT about her “mission is to promote the truth about Pope Pius XII.”
Q: Why publish a book of photographs on Pius XII?
Sister Marchione: A year ago I had the idea to publish a book of photographs to combat erroneous and unjust ideas about Pius XII. Moreover, I wanted people to understand that some writers are mistaken in saying that the Pope only sought to save converted Jews, that there was no documentation on the directives to superiors of monasteries and convents to open the doors to Jews, and that the Pope only wanted to protect the interests of the Catholic Church.
With this book, readers will have the possibility to be aware of the personal gifts that Pius XII gave to the Church and to humanity. To admire and recognize his humanity and holiness, suffice it to read the anecdotes narrated in this volume, in which public documents are published which attest to his profound commitment to the poor, the sick and the afflicted, especially to all those who suffered during the war.
Q: The pictures in the book present a Pope Eugenio Pacelli who is extremely different from the one described in some books. A happy and vivacious Pope, informal, who was extremely attentive to people. In Constantin Costa-Garvas’ recent film, “Amen,” the Pope seems extremely cold, distant, introverted.
Sister Marchione: To deny what some of the media say, suffice it to read the description of Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston: “Theologian, canonist, scholar, linguist, statesman, diplomat: Pius XII was all this. He has been praised for all this but, above all, he was a pastor dedicated to his flock of souls, to the poor of the Church, and to the glory of God.”
Q: You have studied the figure of Pope Pacelli for years. What is your opinion of him?
Sister Marchione: I began this study in 1995, when I learned that the religious of my Congregation of Religious Teachers Filippini saved 114 Jews in Rome. I am convinced that Pope Pacelli is a saint. When he died, Padre Pio saw him, in a vision, in heaven. I make reference to this in Note 36 of the English edition of the book.
Q: Pope Pacelli, however, is the subject of debate. Why?
Sister Marchione: There are debates because the meaning of his words is altered, because the original documents are not consulted.
Q: What is your opinion of Pius XII’s role during the Second World War?
Sister Marchione: In order to cover the faults of other leaders and of the Jews themselves, who did very little to help victims, Pius XII has become an authentic victim of the Holocaust. In general, the most responsible historians say that the failure and lack of success do not diminish Pius XII’s merit.
I agree with Rabbi Pinchas Lapide, who wrote: “Unable to cure the sickness of a whole civilization and to tolerate the onslaught of Hitler’s madness, the Pope, unlike so many of the powerful, tried to alleviate, mitigate, repair, speak out, appeal, save as best he could on his own.” Moreover, we must remember that no Pontiff has ever received so many expressions of gratitude and affection as Pius XII from the Jewish world community.
We must recall the words of Pius XII himself — June 13, 1943 — “The Church is not afraid of the light of truth, neither in regard to the past, the present, or the future.” These words can be heard on a Vatican Radio program that I have in my possession.