He's now 96-years-old, but during World War II, Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini was a young priest in a Roman parish who first came face-to-face with Pope Pius XII in the aftermath of an Allied air raid.
“I had the unimaginable surprise to find myself, immediately after the bombing near to the Pope who went to the site of the disaster where I was among the wounded, dead and dying,” he told CNA in Rome.
A native of Rome, Cardinal Angelini is a former President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers. He was elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinal in 1991 by Pope John Paul II.
Since his youthful meeting with Pope Pius XII he has also been an outspoken supporter of the wartime pontiff’s record – particularly against those who allege he did not do enough to help the Jewish community in Rome.
“Pius XII helped everyone,” Cardinal Angelini said, “the Pope gave an order to open all the convents, seminaries and monasteries. The Pope did his duty.”
“For those who knew him and his intelligence and holiness, in accusing him of not having acted in favor of the Jews, they tell lies fully knowing what they are doing.”
Despite pleas by Pope Pius XII for the Allied air forces to spare the city of Rome, the Italian capital was hit by 60,000 tons of bombs in the 78 days prior to Rome’s liberation in June 1944.
Cardinal Angelini recalled how Pope Pius XII was fearless during those dark days in comforting the Roman people along with his Assistant Secretary of State, Monsignor Giovanni Montini, the future Pope Paul VI.
“They came together, leaving the Vatican before the air raid siren had finished ringing, taking the streets after the huge bombing of the English airplanes.”
“In those moments of war,” he said, “there were no distinctions. They were all lives that needed to be saved. We as the Church had to help them.”
Hence he found himself “on the frontline” at the age of 24, “and I found myself there, for the first time, face-to-face with Pius XII. I wouldn’t have ever imagined finding the Pope there so close.”
Despite the passage of nearly 70 years, Cardinal Angelini said he is more certain than ever of one thing – “Pius XII was a saint!”