Pope Benedict XVI commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Servant of God Pope Pius XII on Thursday at a Mass concelebrated with several cardinals. He described his predecessor as one who, during a time of totalitarian ideologies, proposed the ideal of sanctity to "everybody."
The Mass reading from Sirach, Pope Benedict said in his homily, reminds those who follow the Lord that they must be prepared to face “difficult trials and sufferings.” The reading also provides a way to examine the earthly life of Pope Pius XII.
According to the Vatican Information Service, the Pope noted how Pius XII’s service to the Church began under Leo XIII in 1901 and continued under St. Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XI.
Pope Benedict XVI said Pius XII’s service as apostolic nuncio in Germany until 1929 left “grateful memories,” especially his collaboration with Benedict XV’s attempts to stop the “useless massacre” of World War I.
Pius XII also “understood from the start the danger of the monstrous national socialist ideology with its pernicious anti-Semite and anti-Catholic roots.”
Pope Benedict XVI called him the “faithful collaborator” with Pius XI in a period of “various forms of totalitarianism.”
The most difficult part of Pius XII’s papacy, Pope Benedict said, came when, aware that “all forms of human security were giving way,” he felt the “powerful need” to remain with Christ.
The Word of God “illuminated his journey,” during which “he had to console the displaced and the persecuted ... and weep the countless victims of the war.”
Pope Benedict quoted Pius XII’s radio message of August 24, 1939, in which he said “The danger is imminent, yet there is still time. Nothing is lost with peace. Everything may be lost with war.”
Pius XII’s love for his “adored Rome,” Pope Benedict remarked, was made manifest in “the intensity with which he promoted works of charity in defense of the persecuted, with no distinction of religion, ethnicity, nationality or political views.”
Benedict cited his Christmas radio message of 1942, where Pius XII deplored “the hundreds of thousands of people who, with no individual blame, are sometimes, because of their nationality or race, destined for death or progressive exploitation.”
This was a “clear allusion” to the deportations and exterminations targeting Jews, Pope Benedict added.
Pius XII "often acted secretly and silently because, in the real situations of that complex moment in history, he had an intuition that only in this way would he be able to avoid the worst, and to save the largest possible number of Jews," Pope Benedict continued.
The historical debate over the wartime Pope “has not thrown light on all aspects of his multifaceted pontificate.” Saying some of Pius XII’s messages and discourses are “still extraordinarily relevant even today,” Pope Benedict noted that Paul VI considered Pius XII “the precursor of Vatican Council II.”
Pope Benedict then examined some of Pius XII’s encyclicals.
Noting also the encyclical Mystici Corporis of June 1943, he said the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu of September 1943 “established the doctrinal norms for the study of Holy Scripture, emphasizing its importance and role in Christian life. It is a document that gives evidence of great openness towards scientific research into biblical texts.”
The encyclical Mediator Dei, published in 1947, concerned the liturgy. There, Pope Benedict said, Pius XII “promoted the liturgical movement, highlighting the 'essential element of worship', which 'must be the interior element. It is, in fact, necessary', he wrote, 'always to live in Christ, to dedicate oneself entirely to Him, so that in Him, with Him and for Him glory is rendered unto God."
Pope Benedict also mentioned the 1951 encyclical Evangelii praecones and the 1957 Fidei donum, saying Pius XII bestowed a “notable impulse” to the Church’s missionary activity through such writings.
One of his constant pastoral concerns, Pope Benedict explained, was the “promotion of the laity” so the Church could make use of all resources.
"As we pray that the cause of beatification of Servant of God Pius XII may continue favorably, it is as well to recall that sanctity was his ideal, an ideal he did not fail to propose to everybody," the Pope said.
Benedict concluded by noting Pius XII’s proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary during the Holy Year 1950.
“In this world of ours which, as then, is assailed by concerns and anguish for the future; in this world where, perhaps more now than then, the abandonment of truth and virtue by many people gives us glimpses of scenarios without hope, Pius XII invites us to turn our gaze to Mary, assumed in heavenly glory,” he said.