She may turn 90 next year, but Sister Margherita Marchione still has pretty important work to do – clearing the name of the wartime Pope Pius XII and seeing him beatified.
“I for one will fight to the very end to make sure that that happens because no one deserves it more than he,” the New Jersey sister told CNA June 7, during a visit to Rome.
Sr. Marchione is in Rome to address a conference on Pope Pius XII, which is being hosted by the Italian Senate. Pope Pius occupied the papacy during the Second World War. His critics accuse him of not taking a stand against the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
But Sr. Marchione says this is nonsense.
“Actually an Italian historian, Enzo De Felice, stated that at least 5,000 Jews were saved through the efforts of Pope Pius XII,” she said.
“And how did he do it? He asked all the convents and monasteries in Rome to open their doors to the Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis and to give them the possibility of remaining there,” said Sr. Marchione, a member of the Religious Teacher Filippini order.
Sr. Marchione actually met Pope Pius XII in person, back in 1957. Her fight to clear his name, though, didn’t begin until a visit to Rome 16 years ago.
“Well, I came here in 1995 and I heard the stories from the sisters who were actually alive back then.”
Her order hid 114 Jewish women in three convents across Rome during the war.
“They were telling (me) how the Jewish women were hidden and what they did to protect them. How they themselves shared the food that they had - and how many times they didn’t have enough food for themselves.”
Since then she’s published 10 books in English and Italian on Pius XII. And she’s still uncovering fresh historical evidence, including something she told people at this week’s conference.
“Yesterday I think I surprised the audience because I was able to tell them about a plaque which is right on the piazza of St. Peter’s and I’m quite sure no one in the audience – because I challenged them – had ever gone to read it.”
“But I did a few days ago. And it is a beautiful marble plaque stating that Pope Pius XII, during the Nazi occupation of Rome, was able to save so many people.”
Sr. Marchione believes that if people study the historical evidence, they will come to see that the myth about Pius XII shying away from helping Jews is not true.
“I would say that people should study the documents and learn the truth. The truth of the matter is that he did all in his power as the Pope to save as many Jews as possible.”
“Those are the facts. No one can deny them.”