By Jesús Colina
ROME, OCT. 29, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The aid Pope Pius XII offered during World War II on behalf of all victims, regardless of their religion, is documented on newly rediscovered films.
The films were discovered in the Cineteca Nazionale Italiana, in a rather deteriorated state.
The most surprising find is the film “War on War,” produced in 1948 by the Italian company “Orbis,” directed by Giorgio Simonelli and Romolo Marcellini, who also directed “Pastor Angelicus” of 1942.
The Cineteca contacted the Vatican, which sent its delegate Claudia di Giovanni to see the find.
Di Giovanni recounted her excitement when she received the invitation; she gave her testimony at the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which Benedict XVI closed today.
In the films, which in certain scenes also present a cinematographic history, “extraordinary images of World War II can be seen, [images that are] particularly harsh, but highly effective in underlining the tragedy of the conflict,” explained di Giovanni.
Projected, “with the background of the war, are the words and work of Pius XII in aid of all victims, with images of the soup kitchens created by the Pope, and the residence of Castel Gandolfo open to refugees,” she added.
The spectator can see how the Pope converted the great halls of the Apostolic Palace into dormitories for refugee women and children.
There are also images of St. Peter’s Square and of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, where, at the instruction of the Pope, soup kitchens were created to feed the population going through the penury of war.
“The film is particularly important as it represents Catholicism’s attempt to communicate through cinematographic art its ‘no’ to the war,” di Giovanni contended. “The film was practically unable to be distributed in the post-war period, but it is an essential testimony of Pope Pius XII’s commitment to peace.
“A restoration of the film was presented at the Venice Film Festival last September, impressing both critics and the public, with a narrative style inspired in neo-realism — simple but effective — which does not hide the horror, but represents it in all its more than explicit reality, above all if we consider that it is a 1948 film.”
The Vatican Film Archive collaborated with the Cineteca Nazionale Italiana in the restoration of the film and now has a copy to show in non-commercial circumstances.
However, these are not the only audiovisual testimonies that recount Pius XII’s aid to the needy, including Jewish victims of the war.
Di Giovanni explained that the Vatican Film Archive recently received 70 films that document the activity of the Pontifical Work of Assistance (PWA), created by Pius XII to help the victims of World War II.
This aid organization was established in 1944 with the name Pontifical Commission of Assistance to Refugees. Later it was called PWA and offered its services until 1970, helping the poor, the sick, prisoners and victims of natural disasters.
The Vatican Film Archive will now conduct a study on these films and ensure their preservation.