Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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BY Margherita Marchione, Ph.D
John Paul II had a magnetic personality.
The memory of meeting him on so many occasions during his
pontificate and chatting with him about each new book I wrote, remains precious
When I think of him, I recall his piercing eyes as they
penetrated my soul. I still feel the emotion I experienced every time he patted
my cheeks, smiled and seemed to enjoy whatever I was trying to explain.
These last few years I reminded him about Pius XII’s
beatification, telling him that 50 years had passed since John XXIII said his
predecessor should be canonized. John Paul II, in agreement, would smile
I was aware that he was waiting for the Positio to be presented to the Sacred
Congregation for Saints.
I was privileged to visit John Paul II whenever I was in
Rome, one or two times each year. For
more than 10 years, I accompanied groups of college students for a six-week
summer course in Italian and the highlight of each trip was a papal audience.
This was followed by 10 years of pilgrimages to the shrines in Italy, which
included a papal audience for each group while, at the same time, I was able to
do some research for my new books.
Each time I was privileged to attend Mass in his private
chapel and to greet him afterwards, his secretary never failed to introduce me
as a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini and a defender of Pius XII. The
many photographs I have confirm these privileged encounters and are among my
most treasured possessions, especially the one when I am wearing the medal, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, which I
received from Pope John Paul II.
As I presented a copy of my last book to His Holiness, I
was overcome with emotion. I realized his health was failing, Archbishop
Stanislaus, his private secretary, later asked me why I was speechless during
the audience. This was so unusual. Perhaps it was a premonition that this was
the last time I would kneel before him and receive his blessing as he patted my
checks and I kissed his hands.
Friend to the Jewish People
No Pope throughout history did more than Pope John Paul
II to create closer relations with the Jewish community, to oppose
anti-Semitism, and to make certain that the evils of the Holocaust never occur
Pope John Paul II visited the chief rabbi at the
Synagogue in Rome in 1986 and declared that “the Jews are our dearly beloved
brothers,” and indeed “our elder brothers in faith.” He requested forgiveness
for past sins by Christians against Jews. He established full diplomatic
relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. Relations between the
Catholic Church and Jewish people are presently marked by mutual respect and
Peace was the clear message John Paul II gave on March
25, 2000, the last day of his stay in Jerusalem: “The honor given to the ‘Just
Gentiles’ by the state of Israel at Yad Vashem for having acted heroically to
save Jews, sometimes to the point of giving their own lives, is a recognition
that not even in the darkest hour is every light extinguished. That is why the
Psalms and the entire Bible, though well aware of the human capacity for evil,
also proclaims that evil will not have the last word.”
The Holy Father assured the Jewish people that the
Catholic Church was motivated by the Gospel’s laws of truth and love, and was
deeply saddened by the displays of anti-Semitism. The Catholic Church rejects
racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every
“Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual
patrimony, flowing from God’s self-revelation. Our religious teachings and our
spiritual experience demand that we overcome evil with good. We remember, but
not with any desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to
remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their
cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the
mistakes and terrible crimes of the past.”
Like that of his predecessors, the voice of Pope John
Paul II was heard again and again as he pleaded for courageous workers willing
to serve and suffer — in the footsteps of Christ — for peace. On Palm Sunday,
March 28, 1999, he declared to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square: “The Pope stands
with the people who suffer, and cries out to all: It is always time for peace.
It is never too late to meet and negotiate.” In his Easter message, he pleaded:
“Peace is possible, peace is a duty, peace is a prime responsibility of
On May 3, he stated: “I raise my voice again, in the name
of God, that this attack of man against man come to an end, that the
instruments of destruction and death be stopped, that all channels of aid be
activated to help those who are forced to flee their land amid unspeakable
When Pope John Paul II visited the United States in
January, 1999, he stated: “If you want Peace, work for Justice. If you want
Justice, defend Life. If you want Life, embrace the Truth — the Truth revealed
by God.” No Pope throughout history did more than Pope John Paul II to create
closer relations with the Jewish community, to oppose anti-Semitism, and to
make certain that the evils of the Holocaust never occur again.
Friend to Pius XII
When the Vatican chastised the Anti-Defamation League for
its ads in the New York Times and the
International Herald Tribune criticizing
the papacy, Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Commission for Religious
Relations with the Jews, in a May 18, 2001 letter to Abraham Foxman, obtained
by The Jewish Week, defended John
“To defame the Holy Father by attributing ‘silence’ to him
is quite unjust and cannot go uncontested. …It wounds our relationship.” In
August, historian Peter Gumpel, representing the Vatican, denounced the
“slanderous campaign” against the Catholic Church and accused some Jewish
historians of “clearly incorrect behavior.”
The vilification of the person of Pope Pius XII and the
denigration of Pope John Paul II affects the magisterium of the Catholic
Church. Today, Catholics should promote the truth about the Holocaust — an important contemporary issue. Both
popes are accused of “silence.”
Although 50 years have passed, the faithful continue to
remember Pius XII. Several years ago, a petition, asking Pope John Paul to
expedite his beatification, was circulated, and the signatures of thousands of
people from all parts of the world were deposited in the Vatican.
The petition read: “With profound respect and sincere
devotion, We, the undersigned, humbly request that the cause for the
beatification of Pope Pius XII proceed without delay. Pius XII’s virtuous life
speaks for itself and is supported by an abundance of incontestable documentary
evidence. The truth regarding his service to the Church and the world, as a
diplomat and during his pontificate, prior to and through the World War II
period, is also historically established. He has been the victim of an unjust
smear campaign for 50 years. Now, however, overwhelming evidence has been
amassed that proves beyond doubt that he labored without pause for peace, that
he sought to assist in every way possible the victims of war, especially Jews,
hundreds of thousands of whom were spared through his efforts, and that he
constantly warned the world of the horrors of Nazism and communism. We urge
that you honor this holy and brave pontiff at the soonest possible date.”
It is interesting
to note that Pius XII consecrated John Paul II a bishop.
On March 18, 1979, 40 years after Cardinal Eugenio
Pacelli became Pope Pius XII, John Paul II recalled:
“I shall never forget the profound impression which I
felt when I saw him close-up for the first time. It was during an audience
which he granted to the young priests and seminarians of the Belgian College.
Pius came to each one and when he reached me the College Rector (Msgr.
Fürstenberg) told him that I came from Poland. The Pope stopped for a while and
repeated with evident emotion ‘from Poland’; then he said in Polish ‘Praised be
Jesus Christ.’ This was in the first months of the year 1947, less than two
years after the end of the Second World War, which had been a terrible trial
for Europe, especially for Poland.”
John Paul II continued: “On the 40th anniversary of the
beginning of this important pontificate we cannot forget the contribution that
Pius XII made to the theological preparation for the Second Vatican Council,
especially by his teachings on the Church, by the first liturgical reforms, by
the new impetus he gave to biblical studies and by his great attention to the
problems of the contemporary world.”
Speaking to a group of Jewish leaders, Pope John Paul II
stated that documents “reveal ever more clearly and convincingly how deeply
Pius XII felt the tragedy of the Jewish people, and how hard and effectively he
worked to assist them.” His Holiness called for “genuine brotherhood” between
Christians and Jews.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the “Uprising of
the Warsaw Ghetto” (April 6, 1993), Pope John Paul II stated: “As Christians
and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a
blessing for the world (Genesis 12:2 ff). This is the common task awaiting us.
It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing
to one another. This will effectively occur if we are united in the face of the
evils which are still threatening: indifference and prejudice, as well as
displays of anti-Semitism.”
Throughout his pontificate, the voice of John Paul II has
been heard again and again as he pleaded for courageous workers willing to
serve and suffer, for peace, in the footsteps of Christ.
Religious Teachers Fillipini Sister
Margherita Marchione, Ph.D., has written
more than 50 books. She lectures widely
in North America and Europe.
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