The Holy Cross is a sign of God’s mercy. God in his mercy allowed his Son to die in order to heal the rift caused by original sin.
for our sake you died in agony on the cross.
Help us never forget
that your mercy comes alive within us.
Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa was crowned
It hasn’t gotten much attention, but we are now in the centennial of the reign of Pope Benedict XV.
I myself wouldn’t have noticed this except for an article in the Jesuit magazine “America.”
Benedict, the former Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa, was pope from September 1914 until he died of pneumonia in January 1923.
That means that he was pope during the whole of World War I, which he characterized as “the suicide of civilized Europe”—an apt description of a conflict that cost 16 million lives.
When Pope Benedict XVI chose his papal name, he did so to honor both St. Benedict and Benedict XV—the latter because of his efforts to promote peace and his attention to the human crises brought on by both the war in Europe and the Russian revolution.
Although he was a career diplomat, Benedict XV was not in a good position to influence either side in the so-called “war to end all war.”
The Vatican’s international status had been seriously damaged in the previous century when Italy seized the Papal States and Pope Pius IX in 1870 declared himself a prisoner of King Victor Emmanuel. Benedict XV was the first pope to begin nudging the Vatican out of that isolation.
Benedict’s appeals to both sides to forswear violence reached passionate levels.
“The abounding wealth,” he wrote to the belligerents in 1915, “with which God the Creator has enriched the lands that are subject to you, allow you to go on with the struggle; but at what cost? Let the thousands of young lives quenched every day on the fields of battle make answer: answer, the ruins of so many towns and villages, of so many monuments raised by the piety and genius of your ancestors. And the bitter tears shed in the secrecy of home, or at the foot of altars where suppliants beseech; do not these also repeat that the price of the long drawn-out struggle is great, too great?’’
But neither side in the war, which was the culmination of a decades-old power struggle among the European nations, was interested in overtures from a voice that had no army and few diplomatic ties to back it up.
As Pius XII would do during World War II, Benedict strictly maintained neutrality, which had the ironic result of alienating both camps.
But Benedict persisted not only in arguing against the war itself and urging the parties to solve their differences through peaceful means but also in agitating for humane treatment of prisoners and release of interned civilians.
He succeeded in some of these humanitarian efforts, including an initiative in partnership with Switzerland to arrange for the exchange and treatment of seriously ill prisoners and detainees.
The pope also campaigned to raise money, including some of his personal funds, to assist civilians, including children, who were left destitute by the conflict.
When the war had played itself out, Benedict was concerned that the Allies would be vindictive, but his ambition for the Holy See to participate in the peace conference was rebuffed.
“Nations do not die,” he wrote. “Humbled and oppressed, they chafe under the yoke imposed on them … passing down from generation to generation a mournful heritage of hatred and revenge.’’
The onerous Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent rise of Adolf Hitler proved him right.
Benedict was a small man, slight of stature—so much so that when he was archbishop of Bologna he was known as “il piccolito,” “the little one.”
But in difficult circumstances a hundred years ago, he was a large man indeed as he took the only rational and moral position amid one of the worst catastrophes in human history.
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen. Tags: Allies, catholic RENEW program, Giacomo della Chiesa, Holy See, il piccolito, peace, Pope Benedict XV, renew catholic program, RENEW International, the little one, the suicide of civilized Europe, Treaty of Versailles, war to end all war, World War I
“Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So to them he addressed this parable. ‘What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents’” (Luke 15:1-10).
On September 4, Pope Francis will canonize Mother Teresa, whose life sent the world a single, urgent message: that love and caring are the most important things in life.
Mother Teresa, Saint of Mercy,
pray for us
that we may truly see the image of God
in the most deprived and disfigured
of our brothers and sisters.
Tags: Care of Creation, catholic RENEW program, Creation at the Crossroads, Creator God, Earth, ecology, environment, Laudato Si", Pope Francis, renew catholic program, RENEW International, World Day of Prayer
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