Sister Margherita Marchione
ROME, 6 OCT. 2006 (ZENIT)
As the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope
Pius XII approaches, errors regarding his life and involvement with the
Holocaust continue to persist, says historian Sister Margherita
Sister Marchione, an expert on the life of Pius XII, wrote the recently
published "Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs, 1939-1945" (Paulist
In 2003 the Italian-American nun received the "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice"
Cross, a papal award, for her work in promoting the truth about Pius
Sister Marchione described for ZENIT the Pope's tireless efforts to save
Jews and reunite prisoners of war with their families. Part 2 of this
interview will appear Sunday.
Q: "Crusade of Charity" is your sixth book on Pius XII and the role of
the Vatican during the World War II. What new perspective on this
Pontiff does the new book offer?
Sister Marchione: "Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs" is an untold
It presents Pius XII as a compassionate, loving Pope
man for all seasons
whose efforts to console and inspire people in all walks of life, of all
ages and religious convictions, are expressed in the words of loved ones
in letters addressed directly to Pius XII to whom they confided their
dreams, sorrows, hopes.
During World War II, young and old, Jews and Christians appealed to Pius
XII for help in locating missing sons, husbands, relatives and friends.
In his name the Vatican Information Office dealt with the requests and
provided information to comfort them.
I tell the fascinating story of the grieved and heroic people in their
own words interspersed with letters, telegrams and reports of the
apostolic delegates who, at the direction of the Pope, visited prisoners
in camps spread around the world.
Q: The book has two sections: It talks about what Pius XII did to help
save Jews, but then a much larger part on what he did to help the
prisoners of war during World War II, on both sides. How did Pius XII
involve himself in these activities?
Sister Marchione: Vatican documents describe Pope Pius XII's efforts to
terminate the war and to mitigate the tragic effects.
My book reveals that the Vatican Information Office offered a powerful
system for prisoners of war to communicate with their loved ones.
As a young monsignor, Eugenio Pacelli had acted as emissary for Pope
Benedict XV during World War I. The young diplomat directed this network
of relief activities for three years and gained international respect
for his spiritual as well as material assistance to all, especially
prisoners of war.
Working with the International Red Cross and the Swiss government, he
began negotiations for the exchange of wounded prisoners and interned
civilians. As a result of his tireless efforts, his negotiations allowed
thousands of civilian prisoners unfit for military service, together
with the elderly, children, physicians, priests, sick soldiers and
hostages to be exchanged and returned home.
Benedict XV acknowledged Pacelli's work by consecrating him a bishop on
May 13, 1917. As soon as World War II began in 1939, Pius XII
re-established the Vatican Information Office.
Q: What was it that inspired 20 million people to write to the Vatican
to locate their missing loved ones? Why did they put so much confidence
in the Church?
Sister Marchione: Regardless of race or religion people throughout the
world contacted the Holy Father for help. Some asked for his blessing,
others for material assistance.
Yes, research in the Vatican Secret Archives revealed that there are 20
million documents; not only the original letters requesting help for
prisoners of war, but copies of the responses and all other pertinent
information recorded on file cards. Here one finds information on
prisoners of war with the first name, surname, date of birth, parents,
profession, rank, and domicile of each individual.
Of course, research was relatively simple if the addressee was a
prisoner, an internee, or an exiled person who sent news to his family;
but it was a difficult task when relatives had received no news from the
addressee for a month or a year or more. At times, the search for
information was etched in desperation. Hundreds of volunteers helped
Pius XII in the Vatican Information Office.
Desperately seeking help, families from every social class wrote to Pius
XII. Letters were written with little formality but much hope.
I love this undated letter, number 00425091, from a child: "Dear Pope, I
am the little girl who sent you Christmas greetings last year. Now I am
sending you greetings for this Christmas. But I want news about my
uncle, my mother's brother, Tonino Mangano, who is in America on Avenue
Brooklyn, and I want to know how he is and send him many kisses. I pray
every evening that all my uncles come home, and also that Jesus will
Nor did non-Catholics hesitate to ask for assistance. "I'm not a
believer, but I'm turning to you, Mr. Pope," one letter began. To help
in this mission, Vatican Radio broadcast 1.2 million shortwave messages
asking for news about missing individuals.
The papacy rescued Jews by channeling money to those in need, issuing
countless baptismal certificates for their protection, negotiating with
Latin American countries to grant them visas, and keeping in touch with
their relatives through the Vatican Information Office. News of Pius
XII's acts of charity spread.
Nuncios, apostolic delegates, bishops, pastors, and priests offered
their assistance and comfort to prisoners, to internees, to families.
The Vatican magazine, Ecclesia
collection of articles concerning the activities of the Vatican
Information Office during World War II
was published weekly from September 1942 to December 1945.
Incidentally, in this magazine I found photographs of the Religious
Teachers of St. Lucy Filippini who had joined the volunteers. They were
answering letters addressed to the Holy Father. This confirms the
response of our superior general who stated in an interview printed in a
book, "The Church and the War," that each day the sisters carried their
typewriters to the Vatican. ZE06100625
Sister Margherita Marchione
ROME, 8 OCT. 2006 (ZENIT)
Pius XII did an immense amount of work to
help victims of World War II, including Jews
and the archives show that, says a scholar.
Sister Margherita Marchione, of the Religious Teachers Filippini, is a
historian and expert on the life of Pius XII. She wrote the recently
published "Crusade of Charity: Pius XII and POWs" (Paulist Press).
In Part 2 of this interview with ZENIT, Sister Marchione, described her
particular interest in Pius XII. Part
Q: Pius XII has been accused of being indifferent to the sufferings of
the victims of the Nazis. Your book tells a very different story. How
did so much misinformation come about?
Sister Marchione: Ignorance of the historical truth is the only answer.
How can anyone accuse Pius XII of indifference? My book reveals the
truth and proves that Pius XII was not indifferent to the sufferings of
the victims of the Nazis.
These [wartime] letters [to the Vatican] express the faith and
confidence of families with regard to their loved ones who were
prisoners of war or missing in action. Some beg for his blessing,
confide in him, ask for food, clothing and financial assistance.
There are many very personal letters: An invalid father begs to see his
son before he dies; a young mother thanks His Holiness for clothes she
received for her children; a little child asks that her father be
present for her first holy Communion; the father of nine children, with
the four oldest serving in the army, implores Pius XII's help in a
letter dated May 21, 1943: "You can perform a miracle. I know that the
other three boys must still make their contribution toward victory; but
at least try to have Mario, my son who is a prisoner, come back to us."
Writing in the name of a group of prisoners, one soldier begged His
Holiness to contact their families in a letter dated November 22, 1943:
"For the past several years we have been away from our country, from our
family, from our home. We recall the smile of a mother, the embrace of a
father, the kiss of a brother. Some of us long to see a son, whom we
have not yet seen; men subjected to all the elements of bad weather
dream of an oasis, a little green, a little rest in the midst of so much
battle, so much blood, so much chaos, so much death. A funereal shadow
envelops humanity, and we are fighting without hope in the midst of so
much ruin and devastation."
The 100 letters I included are addressed to Pius XII. He read them and,
at times, noted what the response should be in his own handwriting. They
are among the 20 million in the Vatican Secret Archives.
Personally and through his representatives, Pius XII employed all the
means at his disposal to save Jews and other refugees during World War
It should be noted that in every country, the Catholic Church had
apostolic delegates who were asked to visit hospitals, prisons and
concentration camps in order to report to the Vatican.
As a moral leader and a diplomat, Pius XII was forced to limit his
words; he privately took action and, despite insurmountable obstacles,
saved hundreds of thousands of Jews from the gas chambers.
Q: Any comments on the canonization process of Pius XII?
Sister Marchione: I understand that the canonization process is
proceeding rapidly. Ever since the death of Pius XII, every Pope from
John XXIII to Benedict XVI noted his sanctity.
In fact, in his first Christmas message, John XXIII called his
predecessor: "Supreme doctor, light of holy mother Church, lover of the
Q: What do we have to learn from this Pope?
Sister Marchione: Thousands of available documents in the Vatican Secret
Archives record the humanitarian work of the Holy See. Pius XII directed
the greatest rescue program in the history of the Catholic Church and
served as a beacon of hope throughout his pontificate, 1939-1958.
He knew that explicit condemnations would have sabotaged rescue
operations and provoked more brutal reprisals. With "diplomacy" rather
than "confrontation" he saved hundreds of thousands of Jews and
Christians from death in the concentration camps.
He was a moral hero: a man solicitous on behalf of Jews and Gentiles
alike who worked tirelessly for peace. Among his many prayers, he wrote
"Ten Commandments for Peace." His was a crusade of charity!
The documentation will show convincingly that during the period leading
up to, during, and after the Second World War, the Vatican used its
moral prestige, limited funds, and extraordinary network of contacts to
work consistently for the protection of human life and human dignity.
The humanitarian work of the Vatican was made known in the very words of
a Nazi leader, Adolf Eichmann, who was condemned at the Nuremberg
Trials. In his memoirs, he clearly states that the Vatican "vigorously
protested the arrest of Jews, requesting the interruption of such
action; to the contrary, the Pope would denounce it publicly."
Q: What is it about Pius XII that inspires such interest on your part?
Sister Marchione: Undoubtedly my meeting with Pius XII in 1957. I was 17
years old when he became Pope on March 2, 1939. I was a young nun whose
order had special connection with the papacy from 1707, when the then
Pope Clement XI called our sisters to open schools in Rome.
Like most Catholics of my generation, I revered the new Pope whom
everyone described as the "Pope of Peace." My first trip to Italy was in
May 1957, as a Columbia University Garibaldi Scholar. Accompanied by his
niece, Elena Pacelli, I had the opportunity to meet Pius XII in the
Basilica of St. Peter.
His piercing eyes penetrated my soul as we chatted informally. We spoke
about my research on the poet Clemente Rebora, about the sisters in the
USA, about my family.
I still see this tall, dignified, and ascetic figure, along with his
brilliant glance, his loving smile, and animated gestures. He had a
magnetic personality full of intelligence and nobility of spirit. When I
think of Pius XII, I feel inspired.
Q: What are you doing now to promote the truth about Pius XII?
Sister Marchione: As we approach the 50th anniversary of the death of
Pius XII, October 9, 1958, I have asked Yad Vashem to posthumously
recognize and honor him as "Righteous among the nations."
He risked his own life to save Jews during the Nazi occupation of Rome.
Jews firmly believe in justice and truth. I would also like Yad Vashem
to correct the statement below the portrait of Pope Pius XII which is
contrary to the truth and is unjust. It must be repudiated.
It says: "Pius XII's reaction toward the killing of Jews during the
period of the Holocaust is controversial. In 1933, as the Vatican
secretary of state, in order to maintain the rights of the Church in
Germany, he signed a concordat with the Nazi regime even at the price of
recognizing the racist Nazi regime. When he was elected Pope in 1939, he
put aside an encyclical against racism and anti-Semitism prepared by his
This statement is false. Pius XII wrote his own encyclical, "Summi
Pontificatus," which did deal with racism.
The statement continues: "Although reports about the assassination of
Jews reached the Vatican, the Pope did not protest either by speaking
out or in writing."
This is not true. Whenever Pius XII spoke out, there was immediate
retaliation by the Nazis. There were more than 60 protests!
The text in Yad Vashem says: "In December 1942, he did not participate
in the condemnation by members of the allies regarding the killing of
Jews. Even when the Jews were being deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the
Pope did not intervene."
The Pope did indeed intervene. After that first day, the SS were ordered
to stop the deportation of the Jews in Rome.
It adds: "He maintained a neutral position except toward the end of the
war when he appealed on behalf of the government of Hungary and of
Slovakia. His silence and the absence of directives obliged the clergy
in Europe to decide independently how they should behave toward the
This is not true. Members of the Church were ordered to protect all
refugees and Jews.
If the statement is corrected and Pius XII is declared a "Righteous
Gentile" by Yad Vashem in Israel, it would mean that finally the Jews
recognize the good that was done by Pius XII in saving hundreds of
thousands of Jews as the Jews themselves have testified.
In his introduction to the Eichmann trial, Israeli Attorney General
Gideon Hausner stated on April 17, 1961, "that the Pope himself
intervened personally in support of the Jews arrested in Rome."
Some historians continue to ignore the testimony of countless
contemporary witnesses. Can historians prove that the charges against
Pius XII are false? Truth and justice demand a re-evaluation of the
attacks against Pope Pius XII claiming "silence," "moral culpability,"
or "anti-Semitism." Did Hitler want to kidnap the Pope? The answer is,
However, Yad Vashem requires two testimonials from people of Jewish
descent who can testify that they were saved, or that they knew Jews
or heard about Jews
who were saved by the Pope. Their testimony must be notarized. Perhaps
friends of ZENIT will be able to help locate these testimonials.