Sunday, October 09, 2022

The Death of Pope Pius XII

Today is the 64th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII. Here is a beautifully made video from the old Italian newsreel company Istituto Luce, an account of his final days and death, the translation of his body to Rome, and his burial in St Peter’s, with my translation of the narration, and a few notes.

“Pius XII died early in the morning of Thursday, October 9th, in his residence at Castel Gandolfo. Two days of anguished uncertainly before his passing; people streamed to the Papal villa, anxious for news. The doctors were reserved; the Holy Father’s condition grew worse by the hour. The science of all the world was at the service of Christendom, for its spiritual father. Cardinal Tisserant, in his role as dean (of the College of Cardinals), arrived to temporarily assume the power of the Church. The comfort of the Faith was brought by the cardinals, as the doctors shrugged their shoulders in resignation. Moments of hope after a brief of improvement, but time marked out the signs of the inevitable. The last morning dawned, women, men, religious, boys, little girls, asked God that he be saved, all the world was in prayer. The doctors could speak no further words of comfort. (Newspaper headline at 1:10, ‘The Pope is dying’) Papa Pacelli [1] was dying. The crowd in silent waiting was still waiting for a miracle, but the fatal night had already arrived. The doctors simply said, ‘Pray.’

1:24 At 3:52 am, Pius XII finished his earthly journey. Cardinal Tisserant blessed the Pope, dead after a long agony. Fr Pellegrino (a popular personality on Italian radio) gave the final announcement on the radio, the journalists published the last bare details, the telexes typed without a break, the bells sounded fully in the anguished night, the flag hung at half-mast. Pius XII was dead.

1:56 On his sick bed, Papa Pacelli received the comforts of the faith in rochet and mozzetta, his profile sharpened by suffering, the hands that used to bless, crossed. The throne of a great pontificate is empty. Huge is the crowd in silent prayer. The first visitors arrive: prelates, civil authorities. (Italian President) Giovanni Gronchi and the Prime Minister (Amintore Fanfani) offer the condolences of the Italian people and of the government, the mourning of the Italians for the Roman Pope. Clothed in (sacred) vestments, Pius XII is brought into the room of the Swiss (guards) in the Pontifical villa. From the Castelli Romani, men and women have come together to pay tribute to the Pope who spent much of his time in the hills reflected in the Lago Albano. [2] In a silence that not even the whispered words of their prayers can break, (at 3:01, Giovanni Battista Montini, the archbishop of Milan and future Pope Paul VI) people of every age salute their ‘Pastor Angelicus’ [3] for the last time. He was a man among men, the Vicar of Christ, even in the midst of his constant attention to his sacred duties.

3:11 But the hour of the last earthly journey has arrived; Rome awaits its bishop, the Vatican, one of its most glorious leaders. The body is laid out in the pine coffin with the Pontifical vestments. The ‘sediari’ (the Italian word for the men who carried the sedes gestatoria), who for 20 years, in so many rites carried the sedes gestatoria, bear the fragile mortal remains to the hearse. Thus does Papa Pacelli returns to his native city.

3:50 It is a quick trip on the road he usually took to go vacation, and his returns at the first chill of autumn. A typical October illuminates the swift cortege. People of every sort crowd the way, in silence, in quiet prayer for the man who tried everything to save the world in fearful hours of calamity.

4:11 Pope Eugenio Pacelli, bishop of Rome, arrives at his beautiful cathedral. He returns to his home, among his people, for a few brief hours, with the humility of a priest who offers blessing and comfort. Afterwards, he will be in the glory of the Church. The Roman people, who loved him and today venerate him, all stand around its shepherd. They remember their Pope on two great occasions: one of grief, when he offered his comfort after the bombardment of San Lorenzo in 1943; the other joyful, when in Piazza di Spagna he opened the celebrations of the Marian year (1954). “A Pope and a people”, they said at the time.

4:52 Now Pius XII passes along the ancient roads of the city that saw his birth; here he returned as a student to meditate and ready himself. The people crowd the way of his passage, in silent devotion. In the official cortege, with the honorable Fanfani, the ministers Tambroni, Bigorelli, Connella and Magia, the whole of the Italian people is represented. Massive is the crowd waiting at St Peter’s, the same crowd that many, many times came here to hear words of comfort in moment of crisis, words of joy in moments of peace, and the Apostolic blessing, encouraging them to the better life. They greet their ‘Pastor Angelicus’ in an impressive silence, as if they can find no voice for invocation and prayer. It is a sad hour, but very sweet.

5:43 Now Pius XII enters the glory of St Peter’s. For 2 days, the huge piazza is full of crowds, waiting in line to pay tribute to Pius XII: a continual flow of Romans, of people who have come from every part of Italy, of foreigners who have hastened to Rome to salute him who in the darkest hours was truly, with his words and his example, the Defensor Civitatis, people of every race and color.

6:11 It is the moment for the final farewell. As he himself requested in his will, Pius XII is buried simply in a sacred place, all the more pleasing (to him) for its obscurity. His remains are received in the grotto near the Clementine chapel, next to the tomb of the Apostle Peter. Simple is the rite of translation; through the great naves that heard his voice proclaim Saints and blesseds, Pius XII passes for the last time. Near him are those who humbly assisted him in his glorious work. In the sadness and grief of the hour, the believers seems still to hear his voice in blessing ‘(Benedictio Dei omnipotentis), Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, descendat super vos et maneat semper.’ ”

[1] In Italian, the Pope is commonly referred to as “Papa (last name)”, and this is not considered the least bit disrespectful.
[2] Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer residence of the Popes, is one of several towns around the Lago Albano, which as a group are called the “Castelli Romani - Roman castles.”
[3] Pope Pius XII was frequently referred to in his lifetime as “Pastor Angelicus - the angelic shepherd”, the title which falls to him in the so-called Prophecy of St Malachi. This was one of the relatively few times when this manifestly fraudulent document coincidentally manages to say something true.

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