A leading Italian politician is giving his support to plans for a museum in Rome to commemorate the memory of the wartime pontiff, Pope Pius XII.
“I’ve taken on the impetus of this important idea that wishes to give the proper place in history to this great Pope,” Italian Senator Stefano De Lillo told CNA.
“During his life he was exalted by all, and at the time of his death the Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, said that he died a ‘grande giusto’ – a ‘great, just man.’”
The plans for the museum are at an early stage but they have already been discussed at an international conference organized by Sen. De Lillo this month. The idea has also gained the support of the former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks, however, is the continually recycled accusation that Pope Pius didn’t do enough during the war to save Jews from persecution. Sen. De Lillo hopes the new museum can help set the record straight.
“There are so many writings from Italian and Roman Jews who thank the Pope for having permitted them to seek refuge in convents, institutes and churches throughout Rome. It is estimated that at least 5,000 people were saved through the direct action of the Pope.”
“We can say that a museum of this type can help give back a just historical truth, in full harmony with our elder brothers of the Jewish religion, with whom our rapport is extremely good,” the Italian lawmaker said.
The museum idea was initially given to Sen. De Lillo by the 90-year-old New Jersey nun, Sister Margherita Marchione, who has been campaigning since 1995 to clear the name of Pope Pius XII. In fact, over the past 16 years she’s become one of his leading biographers.
Sen. De Lillo says the museum would “bring together all of the documentation that the sister possesses, along with other documentation possessed by other sites.”
He also wants to mark what he sees as the bravery and loyalty of Pope Pius towards the citizens of Rome during the war.
“Thanks to Pope Pius XII, Rome was declared an ‘open city’ during the Second World War so it was prohibited by an international convention to bomb the city,” Sen. De Lillo recalled.
Actually both before and after the granting of this status in 1943, Rome was bombed by both Allied and Axis powers. But unlike the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III, and the country’s dictator, Benito Mussolini, who fled Rome due to the threat of bombing, Pope Pius XII remained in the city throughout.
“After the war, the citizens and the city of Rome put up a plaque in Pius XII Square near the Vatican thanking the Pope for having saved Rome,” the senator noted.
The Romans also honored him with the title “Defensor Civitatis” or “Defender of the City,” which is the name Senator De Lillo would like to give to the new museum.