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VATICAN LETTER Apr-28-2006 (950 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Sense of urgency: Pope Pius XII supporters await progress on cause

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII coming up in two years, supporters of his sainthood cause are growing a little impatient.

They're also growing older. The generation of church people who lived and worked with Pope Pius is quietly passing from the scene.

That may have accounted, in part, for the sense of urgency among those who gathered recently at Rome's Pontifical Lateran University to hear new evidence of Pope Pius' virtues and denounce the "continuous attacks" from those who fault him for not doing enough to help Jews during World War II.

The feisty tone was set by Italian Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, 89, a personal friend of the late pontiff. After listening to a Vatican envoy read a message from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, in praise of Pope Pius, Cardinal Angelini asked the monsignor to take a message back to his superiors.

"Pius XII must be declared a saint! Admiration isn't enough -- people need to get moving!" he said to applause from the packed auditorium.

"Too much time has already passed," he said.

The Vatican message only hinted at Pope Benedict XVI's views, saying he was happy to see attention given to the great efforts of Pope Pius to "prevent the war, ease its pain and hasten its end."

The suspicion among many in the room was that Vatican officials long ago placed Pope Pius on the slow track because he is a controversial figure whose beatification could cause problems.

But on that score, the audience received some good news. Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel, who has assembled evidence in support of the cause, said the Vatican's saint-making machinery may be grinding toward a conclusion of this cause.

In late 2004, he said, experts handed in documentation totaling more than 3,000 pages in six volumes. Earlier this year, two preliminary meetings of historians and theologians were held to review the documentation.

Father Gumpel said that, despite some "errors and misguided suggestions" from one of the four historians and some scrupulous queries from some of the nine theologians, the overall assessment was very positive.

Father Gumpel is preparing written answers to their questions, and before the summer he expects a definitive meeting on the cause. If the historians and theologians approve it, it goes to the full Congregation for Saints' Causes for similar approval, then to Pope Benedict for an ultimate decision.

Once Pope Pius' heroic virtues are declared, the church must recognize two miracles attributed to his intercession, one before his beatification and another before his canonization.

So when can the church expect his beatification?

"I'm not a seer, but the cause is advanced, and there are serious reasons to think it will come in the not-too-distant future," Father Gumpel said.

Criticism of Pope Pius has grown more shrill in recent years, according to Father Gumpel, who blames "communists, Masons and other fringe groups that are hostile to the church."

One of the volumes consigned to the Vatican was an appendix listing representative criticisms, along with analysis and rebuttal, he said.

Like many church people in Rome, Father Gumpel is convinced that Pope Pius worked quietly to help save many Jews during the war and that strong public statements by the pope would only have worsened the Nazi persecution.

The Rome conference heard from two people who agree -- a rabbi and a nun.

U.S. Rabbi David G. Dalin -- whose book, "The Myth of Hitler's Pope: How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews From the Nazis," takes aim at what he says is the smearing of Pope Pius -- said he has documented dozens of instances where the pope spoke against Nazism and helped save Jews from deportation.

"Pius XII was not Hitler's pope, but a protector and friend of the Jewish people at a moment in history when it mattered most," he said.

He said this was a commonly accepted fact among Jews after the war and for many years afterward. In 1955, for example, on the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Rome, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra came to play a concert in tribute to Pope Pius, he said.

"Israeli public opinion would never have accepted the Israeli Philharmonic traveling to play a concert for 'Hitler's pope,'" he said.

Sister Margherita Marchione, a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini order in Morristown, N.J., unveiled the latest in a series of books she has written defending Pope Pius.

Titled "Crusade of Charity," it includes a sampling of the 10 million letters from families -- Christian and Jewish -- who sought the pope's help in finding missing loved ones in the war. The Vatican Secret Archives made the letters available to scholars two years ago; many of the letters express deep gratitude to the pope for his efforts.

While the media may view Pope Pius strictly in the context of World War II, Cardinal Angelini reminded the audience that he was much more than a wartime pope.

"He was a man of God and a man of prayer, an ascetic and a great pastor," the cardinal said. He said the late pope was prophetic in his comments about materialism and communism and helped set in motion the events leading to the Second Vatican Council.

Often overlooked, Cardinal Angelini said, were Pope Pius' groundbreaking statements about modern medicine. For example, the pope's acceptance of pain relievers -- even if they may unintentionally shorten human life -- was revolutionary, he said.

Cardinal Angelini closed with another applause line: "The holiness of Pius XII doesn't need to be defended. It needs to be better known."

END


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