Friday, August 28, 2009

War and remembrance: Vatican highlights Pope Pius XII's peace efforts

German troops march through Warsaw, Poland, in September 1939. The invasion marked the start of World War II. (CNS photo/National Archives)

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like much of Europe and the world, the Vatican was marking the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II with an act of remembrance.

In the Vatican's case, though, the remembering has focused largely on the dramatic and unheeded warnings issued by Pope Pius XII to world leaders in the weeks and days leading up to the war's outbreak.

The late pope's sense of alarm came through loud and clear in the radio message he delivered Aug. 24, 1939, as German troops were massing on the Polish border. His voice full of urgency, the pontiff told the world's powerful that "empires not founded on justice are not blessed by God."

"Today, when the tension of spirits has reached a level that makes the unleashing of the tremendous whirlwind of war appear imminent, in a spirit of paternity we make a new and heartfelt appeal to governments and peoples," the pope said.

"To governments so that, laying aside accusations, threats and the reasons for reciprocal mistrust, they try to resolve present differences through the only suitable means, that is, sincere joint agreements; and to peoples so that in calm and serenity, and without unbecoming agitation, they will encourage efforts for peace on the part of their leaders," he said.

The pope added, "Along with us, the whole of humanity hopes for justice, bread and freedom, not the iron that kills and destroys."

Parts of the audio recording were replayed in late August on Vatican Radio, which called the message "a milestone in the church's service to peace." Likewise, the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, printed the text of this and other papal warnings against war, depicting Pope Pius as a prophetic figure who was ignored by those in power.

A week after the pope issued his appeal, German troops invaded Poland, setting off six years of unprecedented warfare. When it was over, an estimated 60 million people -- most of them civilians, including more than 5 million European Jews -- were dead, cities lay in ruins and millions were homeless or displaced.

See also from Zenit, "John Paul II: WWII Was a "Hour of Darkness"."


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