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Pius XII - Father To All

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Photograph of Pius XIIMarch 1939 was a time of high tension as Hitler, unsatisfied with his Munich mouthful, was preparing to rend Europe. Faced with this situation the cardinals quickly elected Eugenio Pacelli, the late Pope's capable and experienced secretary of state.

Eugenio Pacelli was born at Rome on March 2, 1876, of a family devoted to the papal service. Eugenio, eager to become a priest, worked so hard at the Capranica Seminary that his health gave way and he was forced to leave the seminary. Leo XIII allowed young Pacelli to live at home while completing his courses and in this way Pacelli reached ordination in 1899.

Eugenio began his priestly career with a combination of parish work and professional study. He took a degree in Canon and Civil Law at the Apollinaris. Cardinal Rampolla, on the watch for talent, took Pacelli into his department of state. Pius X made him a monsignor and set him to work on the titanic task of re-codifying canon law. During the First World War Pacelli gained valuable experience helping Benedict XV and Cardinal Gaspari in their humane efforts.

In 1917 Benedict sent Pacelli as nuncio to Munich to forward the Pope's peace plans. Although Pacelli managed to secure an interview with the Kaiser, nothing came of it, and Germany went down in 1918. Red revolution swept Munich and Pacelli got a bitter taste of life under the hammer and sickle. Several times the Reds threatened him but he managed to calm them down. Once an automobile in true gangster fashion roared by his house blasting it with machine-gun fire. When the Weimar Republic was established, Benedict created a nunciature at Berlin and sent Pacelli to be the first nuncio. He got along well with the Germans and left with regret in 1929 to be made a cardinal. The next year he succeeded the aged Gaspari as Secretary of State. Few popes have traveled as widely as Pius XII, and he is the first pope to have visited the United States.

In the gloomy days of the Second World War Pius tried hard to keep a door open to peace. On December 24, 1939, he gave the world a sane fivepoint peace program. If he could not stop the war, at least he could and did relieve the sufferings of the miserable millions of refugees and war victims. Pius called on Catholics all over the world and especially in comparatively comfortable America to share with the needy. Pius also did much to save Rome from destruction, but he saved more than buildings. While Gestapo agents glared, Jews, refugees, and all manner of hunted folk found safety in the tiny Papal State.

After the war Pius continued to stress the need for a just peace. A realist, the Pope understood the thorny difficulties faced by the United Nations, but he approved of it and encouraged all good works tending to foster international understanding. As pastor of souls Pius keenly felt the need of modern man for spiritual sustenance. To make it easier for people to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion, Pius greatly relaxed the old rules governing the time of Mass and the fast necessary to receive Holy Communion. He also simplified the breviary.

Pius XII died on October 9, 1958. For suffering people of all faiths or no faith he had been a true father.

Writings and Addresses of Pius XII

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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