In the Light of Fatima Towards the Third Millennium: Pius XII, Father, Teacher and Friend of our Time

Author: Emilia Paola Pacelli


Emilia Paola Pacelli

On 13 May 1917, while the Mother of God was appearing in Fatima, announcing to the world her message of peace and conversion and warning humanity about the terrible crises of the 20th century, in the Sistine Chapel in Rome from which he would emerge years later as the Successor of Peter, the Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, was being consecrated Archbishop by Pope Benedict XV.

In the perspective of faith, as we know, nothing happens by chance, and some apparently chance occurrences are indicative signs of a providential course of events. Nor, we believe, was it a chance occurrence that the burial of Eugenio Pacelli took place on 13 October 1958 - 40 years ago - the anniversary of the last apparition in Fatima. A further, clear confirmation of Mary's desire to accompany that faithful son of hers to the threshold of eternity.

Indeed, the Blessed Virgin had taken that son by the hand when he was still very young, a child predestined by God to guide the Church in the most tragic period of history, She had accompanied him step by step from the fervent Marian devotion of his infancy to his first Mass celebrated in St Mary Major's in the Salus Populi Romani Chapel, from his episcopal consecration on the same day that Mary appeared in Fatima, to the Throne of Peter. Preparation, in a certain sense, for the role that the future Pius XII was destined to play in the glorification of the Mother of God, especially in relation to the events of Cova da Iria.

Pius XII: the Pope of the Dogma of the Assumption, of the Queenship of Mary, of the Consecration of the human race and of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Pope of the Holy Year and the Marian Year; that Pope who, in "the decisive hour of divine judgement of the world", would be called to co-operate, through the Mother's mediation, in fulfilling God's saving plan for humanity and who, as was prophesied, would have to suffer greatly, undergoing persecution together with the Church.

It is important to stress this Marian dimension of Pius XII's Pontificate, not only because it constitutes an aspect with a particular "force of gravity" but also because it serves to connect it, in a profound line of continuity, with the exquisitely Marian dimension of John Paul II's totus tuus.

From that 13 May of 1917 in which Eugenio Pacelli received episcopal consecration, to the dramatic 13 May 1981 on which the blood of the Vicar of Christ was spilled on the ground in Rome, to 25 March 1984 when John Paul II himself, in union with all the Bishops of the world and with reference to Pius XII, consecrated humankind and the people of Russia anew to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, repeating the vow of trust uttered in 1982, an invisible thread, passing through Fatima, unites the two pontificates, placing them under the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And the sensational, regained freedom of the peoples beyond the Iron Curtain, the re-opening of the church dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption in Moscow, and that bullet, set like a precious jewel in the crown of Our Lady of Fatima - which Pope Pius XII had placed on the "miraculous statue" by his legate on 13 May 1946 -are merely equally unmistakable signs of a grandiose providential project which, begun originally by Pius XII, John Paul II, "the Pope from the East", has successfully concluded.

They are also signs which, even in the darkness of the present time - showing the close bond between the Mother of God and the Roman Pontiffs - appear as an explicit, clear prelude to the prophesied triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that will inaugurate a new era for the Church.

Pope John Paul II himself, in his pilgrimage to Fatima, asserting that there are no mere coincidences in the plans of divine Providence and thanking Our Lady for her special protection during the attempt on his life which took place "in mysterious coincidence with the anniversary of the first apparition", confessed that he saw in this "an appeal and a reminder of the message" from Fatima at the beginning of the century; that message which, with its maternal and at the same time strong and decisive call to conversion and repentance - the Pope underlines - is "so deeply rooted in the Gospel and the whole of Tradition that the Church feels that it imposes a commitment on her" (cf. Address outside the Chapel of the Apparition, 12 May 1982; Homily at Mass in Fatima, 13 May 1982).

Mary's presence and the Fatima event, of such great importance for the history of the Church and of all humankind, are therefore deeply engraved in the heart of Eugenio Pacelli's pontificate - which he expressly wanted to place under Our Lady's protection enlightening it with special reverberations that help to express its goals better and at the same time the undercurrent that runs all the way through it.

It can almost be said that, contemplated in the beams of light radiating from the open hands of that Lady, "brighter than the sun", Pius XII's entire pontificate acquires a special clarity that exalts the essential core of his mandate: to co-operate, as we have said, through the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in God's plan for the salvation of the world at a decisive moment in human history; to be, therefore, not only the Helmsman sent to guide St Peter's Barque in the planetary devastation of the 20th century; but also, and at the same time, to be the defender of civilization - through the promotion of "Christian renewal" - and the artisan of a new era for the Church in the difficult post-war period of reconstruction for which he would have to prepare Christianity.

In fact, Pius XII was deeply conscious of the determinative role the Church was called to play in God's designs, at that critical hour, in the spiritual regeneration of a world ravaged and lacerated by conflicting ideologies, which ran the risk of destroying itself. With farsighted wisdom he perceived the formidable challenges she would have to face, which were already darkening the horizon.

Here we have the basic features of his pontificate: a work directed above all to consolidating within the Mystical Body its eternal and immutable principles, that is, its spiritual defences, at the same time increasing on the outside its dynamic ability for incarnation in the most diverse fields of society; also an attempt to unify all positive human values, harmoniously and hierarchically arranged in a mighty synthesis based on the profound affirmation of God's primacy in human life; and again, the energetic mobilization of all members of the Church with a view to an in-depth evangelization and re-evangelization of the whole social structure. Many strong points organically arranged in a far-reaching plan, characterized by a singular unity.

In fact, from a careful analysis of the acts and documents of Pius XII, it can be said that all the policies of his Magisterium, which contributed so much to impressing a vigorous rhythm upon the Church, preparing her for the new historical mission she had been sent to carry out in the world, converged essentially towards this one goal: to re-establish the gospel spirit in a society where all values had been destroyed and to bring or lead peoples back to Christ as soon as possible, through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin, if they wanted "to avoid immensely greater and more disastrous ruin than that sown by the war". Exactly the "heart" of Fatima. That "nucleus" which John Paul II would recall years later, underlining its special relevance and urgency, to the extent of indicating it as "the way that the Church follows at the end of the present century", in which "sin has thus made itself firmly at home in the world and denial of God has become widespread", and so many "almost apocalyptic menaces ... gather like a dark cloud over mankind", "more than it has ever been in any other period in the course of history" (cf. General Audience, 19 May 1982; Homily at Mass in Fatima, 13 May 1982; Regina Caeli, 9 May 1982).

And it is always in that beam of supernatural light that the pontificate of Pius XII not only expresses the profound purpose and prophetic inspiration that permeates it, but also very clearly reveals its distinctive character: that sovereign theological view of history and the world which, animating and guiding from within the immense volume of acts, interventions and documents of Pius XII's Magisterium, constitutes its solid, unitary outline, providing at the same time the essential key for interpreting and understanding it correctly.

Therefore the profound motivations of his work are clearly perceived in this transcendent vision and one can easily understand on what level he tackled the issues related to the events of the civilized world. As in the case of the Consecration of the Church and of the human race in 1942 and then of the people of Russia, 10 years later, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in response to what Pope John Paul II would call the Mother of God's "powerful warning against the errors that have been spread in this very century" (cf. General Audience, 19 May 1982). In 1948 Pius XII had indicated that he saw in the consecration of humankind to the Blessed Virgin Mary a sure and effective way for obtaining from God, through Mary's powerful protection, the end of the "terrible universal conflagration", for which human means have proved uncertain and insufficient (cf. Auspicia Quaedam, 1 May 1948; Meminisse iuvat, 14 July 1958).

Again, we should remember the institution of the feast of Our Lady's Queenship, which he was sure would bring great benefits for the Church and the world (cf, Ad caeli Reginam, 11 October 1954); or the great mobilization of public and private prayer which he called for so that, by recourse to deeper remedies than human ones, a remedy could be obtained for the enormous calamities that weighed upon so many peoples and nations (cf. Fulgens corona, 8 September 1953; Ingruentiurn malorum, 15 September 1951; Meminisse iuvat, 14 July 1958, etc.).

The very definition of the Dogma of the Assumption can, in this perspective express at best its truest and most profound value, proving to be not only a gesture of great honour towards Our Lady, but also an excellent means for obtaining from God, through Mary's mediation, great benefits for the whole of humanity: peace, freedom for the Church suffering violent persecution, and deliverance from the imminent danger of new conflicts. An authentic vision of faith (cf. Bull Munificentissimus Deus, 1 November 1950; Discourse to the Consistory, 30 October 1950; Summi maeroris, 19 July 1950; Meminisse iuvat, 14 July 1958).

Thus the image of a great architectural work emerges: a work which John XXIII defined as a "colonnade of the solid pillars of contemporary Christian thought". The architecture of a papacy that far from indicating the end of an age, as Fr Raimondo Spiazzi explains, inaugurates instead a new era for the Church, laying the solid premises for the Second Vatican Council and planning the milestones for the Church's subsequent path towards the third millennium.

Today John Paul II, who in turn has received the heritage that was yesterday in the hands of Pope Pius XII, is leading the Church along this path, written in the beam of light that started to shine just over 80 years ago from Cova da Iria and which projects its radiance into the next century, preparing her to cross the threshold of the Year 2000: that new millennium which, we hope, will finally mark the advent, foretold at Fatima, of a more complete return of the nations to Christ, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Now, 40 years after his entrance into God's glory, let us remember Pius XII as the: "Doctor optimus, ecclesiae sanctae lumen, divinae legis amator", according to the definition of Pope John XXIII. But above all, let us remember him and feel him still as the Father, Teacher and Friend of our time, close to us through the Communion of the Saints; let us remember him - as Paul VI so touchingly exhorted - "this illustrious and elect Pontiff; let the Church remember him; let the world remember him; let history remember him. He is worthy of our pious, grateful and admiring memory".

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12/19 August 1998, page 9

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