The Jewish New Yorker who has made it his life’s work to clear the name of Pope Pius XII is welcoming the first public display of letters from the Vatican Archives that suggest the wartime pontiff helped many Jews escape Nazi persecution.
“This wonderful exposition is merely a tasting of what is in store for the world when the Secret Archives are fully opened,” Gary Krupp of the Pave the Way Foundation said.
The archived letters are featured as part of the “Lux in Arcana” exhibition, which opened last week in Rome. It showcases 100 articles from the Vatican’s Secret Archives to celebrate its 400th anniversary.
To date, documents relating to the 1939-58 papacy of Pope Pius XII have remained unpublished. In recent decades his critics have accused him of indifference to the plight of the Jewish people during the Second World War.
The new exhibition features several documents outlining his efforts to assists Jews in Italy. They reveal that in 1941 the Pope sent a high-ranking Vatican official to inspect the welfare of Jews being held in seven internment camps in southern Italy. One year later, a rabbi who was being held in one of the camps wrote a long letter to Pope Pius thanking him for sending aid to the prisoners, including clothes for the interned children.
Finally, in 1944, former detainees wrote to express their gratitude to the Pope for his “keen and paternal interest” towards their “physical, spiritual and moral wellbeing” during their detainment. They also credited him with saving them from deportation to Poland in 1942. “Your Holiness extended your fatherly hand to protect us and prevented the deportation of the Jews imprisoned in Italy, thereby saving us from almost certain death.”
Gary Krupp said these wartime documents merely reflect the “thousands of pages of documents from the war years that have been available for years in individual diocesan archives throughout Europe.”
Those documents, he said, show how “the Pope acted firmly and directly while the Vatican was surrounded by hostile forces, infiltrated by spies, (and) without an army to protect them.”
Krupp himself has seen letters documenting how the Vatican sent money to support Jews in Austria, Romania and France. At present, his foundation’s website has over 46,000 similar documents in support of Pope Pius XII. “For example, we have posted on line documents proving the Pope’s direct action to stop the arrests of October 16, 1943, thereby saving an estimated 12,000 Jews in Rome,” he said.
Bp. Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, told the media last week that all the files relating to Pope Pius XII will likely be made available “within one or two years,” adding that “the final decision, however, depends on the Pope.”
He said that “Benedict XVI’s willingness to accelerate the opening” would also be “a way of silencing dissonant voices” and “can only benefit the Church.” Cardinal Raffaele Farina, Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, said that the documents gave a “little preview of the archives for the period of Pius XII” which are “not yet ready” to be opened to the public in full.
“We’re still classifying these materials,” he explained.
For the first time in history, the Vatican is making public over 100 historical documents from its Secret Archives. “They are revealed as a cultural context, as a fascinating appeal to the memory of our past, the past of the Church, of empires, kingdoms, duchies and republics,” said Cardinal Raffaele Farina, Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church. The “Lux in Arcana” exhibit at Rome’s Capitoline Museum was created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Vatican’s Secret Archives and includes notable items such as the 1521 decree from Pope Leo X excommunicating German monk Martin Luther.
The display also features a 1530 petition asking Pope Clement VIII to annul Henry VIII of England’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and an 1887 letter from a North American Indian chief–written on a strip of bark–addressing Pope Leo XIII as the “Grand Master of Prayers.”
Cardinal Farina sees the Secret Archive documents as “an incentive to raise the standard of knowledge beyond the empty stereotype to which, if I am not mistaken, much of the current so-called ‘culture of the masses’ unfortunately leads.”
The Vatican archive has 52 miles of shelves that hold 35,000 documents, some of which date back to the 8th century. Usually only professional scholars are given access to the collection, which is one of the greatest and oldest institutional archives in the world.
The exhibition is a joint venture between the Vatican and, among others, the city authorities in Rome. It was inaugurated on the morning of Feb. 29 with a private visit by Cardinal Farina, the Vatican Secretary of State, Card. Tarcisio Bertone, the head of the Vatican’s council for culture, Card. Gianfranco Ravasi, and various other dignitaries from Church and state, including Mayor Gianni Alemanno of Rome. Although most of the documents are written in Latin, other languages are also on display.
A 1603 letter written by Pope Clement VIII to a religious community in Cuzco, Peru is written in the indigenous Peruvian language of Quechua. Also featured is a handwritten letter in French from Mary Queen of Scots to Pope Sixtus V, penned just weeks before she was beheaded by Queen Elizabeth of England. In it she describes at length her sufferings, professes her Catholic faith, and commends her soul to God. There are even diplomatic letters written in the Vatican’s own encrypted code. They were used to prevent secret messages between the Holy See and its diplomats from being intercepted by hostile powers. The oldest of these “ciphered” texts in the Vatican Archives dates back to the first half of the 14th century. The Secret Archives were created in 1612 by Pope Paul V. It remained closed until 1881 when Pope Leo XIII opened them to academics. Around 1,500 researchers now visit the archive every year.
The “Lux in Arcana” exhibition at Rome’s Capitoline Museum runs until Sept. 9, 2012.
The Italian astronaut who spoke to Pope Benedict XVI from space says that being in orbit inspires deep contemplation and raises the mind and heart to God.
“It’s the beauty,” Roberto Vittori told CNA, “the beauty of the earth seen from space, the beauty of nature, the beauty of the blue planet,” which show “there must be something beyond science and technology.”
On 21 May 2011, 48-year-old Vittori was one of 12 astronauts on board the International Space Station who participated in the first ever Papal videoconference with outer space.
During the 18-minute conversation the Pope asked the Italian astronaut if “in the midst of your intense work and research” did he ever “stop to reflect like this or perhaps say a prayer to the Creator?” Vittori informed the Pope that “I do pray for me, for our families, for our future.”
“A videoconference is something standard onboard the International Space Station,” Vittori explained, but he added that “that videoconference nevertheless was special.”
“That type of opportunity was perceived as special, not only for the technicality, for the beauty of the scenario, but also for the depth of the messages that were filtering through the radio from the Vatican.”
A colonel in the Italian Air Force, Vittori was selected to be an astronaut in 1998 by the Italian Space Agency. He first journeyed into space in 2002 as part of a mission to the International Space Station. He has since twice returned, in 2005 and 2011. Last week on 23 Feb. he took part in a conference entitled “Space and God” which was co-organized by the Diocese of Rome.
He said the experience of being an astronaut “is so unique” that “when you’re back and you try to think about what happened, it almost seems that it never happened. It seems surreal.” He said space travel is an experience that “really captures your eyes and your heart.”
Before leaving on his 2011 mission, Vittori was given a special coin by Pope Benedict. It was engraved with Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” as depicted in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. During his Papal videoconference, Vittori used the coin to illustrate the effects of microgravity.
In Sept. 2011 he and his fellow Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli personally returned the coin to Pope Benedict at a special audience held at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
“Space initially was an area of a competition, if not more, between Russia and the US,” he said, “but today space is putting together many countries including Russia and the US.” That is why he viewed “that particular journey of the coin from the Vatican to the Vatican” as symbolic of that cooperation.
At present Vittori, who is married with three children, is unsure if he will return to space for another mission or if he will opt for a more earth-bound job.
“I shall just have to wait and keep the faith,” he said smiling.
Card. Raymond Leo Burke, one of the Catholic Church’s top US-born clerics, is, marking the first anniversary of his Nov. 2010 elevation to the Sacred College of Cardinals.
“Well, it’s been a very fast-moving year,” Card. Burke said in his Roman apartment just yards from the Vatican, where he serves as head of the Church’s highest court.
“But, it’s been a very good year, I’d have to say. And I’ve certainly come to understand more fully what it is to give this service to the Holy Father and hope that I am doing it better.”
The College of Cardinals consists of the men considered the Pope’s closest aides, giving counsel and assistance to the pontiff when needed. It currently has under 200 members, with only 115, those under age 80, eligible to elect a future Pope.
Card. Burke, 63, has had a remarkable journey from America’s rural Midwest–where he grew up as the youngest of six children–to his current post as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
“I never dreamed of it, to be honest with you,” he said, reflecting on God’s guidance of his path to the Vatican.
“I grew up, thanks be to God, in a very good Catholic home,” he recalled. “We were small dairy farmers in Wisconsin, which was a very common situation in that part of the world. But I see how God has been at work all along, and I marvel at it.”
While much has changed since those days, his life as a cardinal is “not unrelated to what my parents were trying to teach me from the time I was little.”
“And, the truth of the matter is that the older I get, the more I appreciate those first lessons that were taught to me, that early formation in the faith.”
After 14 years leading dioceses in Wisconsin and Missouri, Card. Burke was chosen in 2008 to head the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, often called the “Supreme Court” of the Catholic Church.
“Whenever I’ve done whatever’s been asked of me,” he said, “I’ve always found a happiness in my work as a priest, and I continue to find that today.”
A patriot with an obvious love for the US, the Rome-based cardinal remains invested in the struggle for his country’s culture.
“It is a war,” he stated, describing the battle lines between “a culture of secularization which is quite strong in our nation,” and “the Christian culture which has marked the life of the United States strongly during the first 200 years of its history.”
He says it is “critical at this time that Christians stand up for the natural moral law,” especially in defense of life and the family.
“If Christians do not stand strong, give a strong witness and insist on what is right and good for us both as individuals and society,” he warned, “this secularization will in fact predominate and it will destroy us.”
Card. Burke favors realism over pessimism, and believes “things are getting better” in America, particularly among the young.
“I think that sometimes the young people understand much better the bankruptcy of a totally secularized culture because they’ve grown up with it,” he observed.
Many youth “have seen their families broken” and “have been exposed to all the evils of pornography,” leading them to conclude that the secularization project “is going nowhere and that it will destroy them” if left unchecked.
But the cardinal also thinks persecution may be looming for the US Church.
“Yes, I think we’re well on the way to it,” he said, pointing to areas of social outreach–such as adoption and foster care–where the Church has had to withdraw rather than compromise its principles.
This trend could reach a point where the Church, “even by announcing her own teaching,” is accused of “engaging in illegal activity, for instance, in its teaching on human sexuality.”
Asked if he could envision US Catholics ever being arrested for preaching their faith, he replied: “I can see it happening, yes.”
The Vatican’s top judge takes a dim view of self-professed Catholic politicians who oppose the Church on key moral issues.
Among them is US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, currently seeking to force most of the country’s employers, including Catholic institutions, to cover contraception and sterilization in employee health plans.
“To the degree to which (Sebelius) proclaims herself to be a practicing Catholic, she is very wrong,” said Card. Burke. He sees it as “simply incomprehensible” for a Catholic to “support the kind of measures that she is supporting.”
The cardinal says America’s 2012 election will be “very significant.”
Catholics, he said, “have a serious duty to vote and to try and find the best candidate to elect.” And some “good and solid, right-thinking individuals” may even be called to run for public office themselves.
Above all, the cardinal hopes for a “new evangelization” of the US–starting with faithful families, strong religious education, and reverent liturgical worship.
The family, he noted, is where a child “first learns the truths of the faith, first prayers, first practices his or her life in Christ.” But the Mass itself is the “source of our solid teaching, of our solid witness,” and also “the most beautiful and fullest expression we give to that teaching.”
Card. Burke is also responsible for overseeing the Church’s liturgy as a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship.
He is grateful to Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for giving the Church “a font of solid direction” regarding worship, based on the Second Vatican Council’s vision of a “God-centered liturgy and not a man-centered liturgy.”
That intention was not always realized, he said, since the council’s call for liturgical reform coincided with a “cultural revolution.”
Many congregations lost their “fundamental sense that the liturgy is Jesus Christ himself acting, God himself acting in our midst to sanctify us.”
Card. Burke said greater access to the traditional Latin Mass, now know as the “extraordinary form” of the Roman rite, has helped correct the problem.
“The celebration of the Mass in the extraordinary form is now less and less contested,” he noted, “and people are seeing the great beauty of the rite as it was celebrated practically since the time of Pope Gregory the Great” in the sixth century.
Many Catholics now see that the Church’s “ordinary form” of Mass, celebrated in modern languages, “could be enriched by elements of that long tradition.”
In time, Card. Burke expects the Western Church’s ancient and modern forms of Mass to be combined in one normative rite, a move he suggests the Pope also favors.
“It seems to me that is what he has in mind is that this mutual enrichment would seem to naturally produce a new form of the Roman rite–the ‘reform of the reform,’ if we may–all of which I would welcome and look forward to its advent.”
Card. Burke’s main role, however, is to uphold the Church’s legal system. He describes canon law as “the fundamental discipline which makes possible our life in the Church,” since it is “not a society of angels” but a communion of men and women who require norms for living.
He acknowledges that canon law fell out of fashion beginning in the late 1960s, during a period where many Catholics bristled at the notion of such rules.
“The whole euphoria that set in within society–and in the Church itself–was that this was the age of freedom, the age of love, and so, in those years nobody talked anymore about ‘sin,’ this was considered to be negative talk.”
But since “human nature didn’t actually change,” the “lack of attention to discipline and to law” produced a great deal of “bad fruit.”
One consequence, the cardinal believes, was the mishandling of clerical abuse accusations.
“Absolutely, there’s no question in my mind about that,” said Card. Burke. He pointed out that both the 1917 and 1983 canon law codes put “a discipline in place” to confront an “evil” the Church had faced before.
“All of that was in place,” he reflected, “but, first of all, it wasn’t known in the sense that people were not studying the law, were not paying attention to it, and so, if it wasn’t known or studied then it wasn’t being applied.”
Historically, he believes, it was an “unfortunate coincidence” that a cultural upheaval accompanied Blessed Pope John XXIII’s call for a reform of canon law.
“This added to the notion that we didn’t really have a law anymore–then the attitude developed that we don’t need it.”
Bl. John Paul II resolved the situation after his election in 1978, implementing a new code of law by 1983. Card. Burke remains “deeply grateful” for the late Pope’s action.
Since he is a cardinal, he could someday cast his vote for a future Pope. But could divine providence ever call the son of a Midwestern farming family to the papacy himself?
“Oh, I don’t believe so,” Card. Burke laughed.
“I hope that the present Holy Father lives a long time. He’s a tremendous gift to the Church and that’s my great prayer–that the Lord gives him many more years.”