WARRIOR IN THE VATICAN
With his “invisible divisions” of 370 millions Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII, 262nd Pope of the Church of Rome, has launched an all-out fight against the forces of materialism
NERIN E. GUN
VATICAN CITY—Two Swiss guards, seemingly straight out of an opera in their yellow pantaloons and silvery glinting halberds, escorted the young man in the tweed suit to the ducal room. Here major domos were in waiting, stately in black velvet, their necks weighted with heavy gold chains.
A prelate in a violet cassock made the young man kneel on the marble, and the mosaics reflected the image of a bike-racing champ who is as popular a figure in Europe as Barbara Ann Scott is in Canada.
Padding noiselessly toward him, an old man clad all in white grasped the young man’s hands and lifted him from his knees. “I have prayed for you each morning, my son, in the hope that the Lord will grant you victory for the Giro . . .” Champion bike racer Gino Bartali won his race by a suitable margin. The fan who prayed for him was Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII, Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the City of the Vatican.
The 262nd Poj>e of the Church of Rome has emerged from the role of a behind-the-scenes mediator in world politics to that of a fighting warrior since his election to office 10 years ago. But the man who lives in the Vatican Palace has remained unchanged in the warmth and eagerness with which he receives the thousands of persons of all faiths who corne for an audience.
From his earliest days in office he became noted
for mingling with the hundreds who attended his public audiences in the same friendly spirit as a parish priest might greet his flock outside the church after Sunday mass. During the war two cynical Nazi soldiers, who declared loudly that they had been drawn to the Vatican purely out of curiosity, were taken aback when the Pope addressed them in Bavarian dialect, enquired about their villages and their families and showed great interest in snapshots of their children. When he bestowed the traditional blessing as the audience ended, the German youths wept.
After the Germans had been driven out of Rome the Vatican was treated to the staggering sight of as many as 8,000 Allied soldiers at a time attending a Papal audience.
In recent months he has received Princess Margaret and the Shah-in-Shah of Persia.
His public audiences have something in common with a North American political rally where the candidate shakes hands all round and has a few words for everyone. They also take on something of the color of a U.N. gathering as Dutch peasant rubs shoulders with Argentine general and a little Japanese nun kneels next to a German aristocrat.
Any foreigner coming to Rome, be he Roman Catholic, atheist, or follower of Father Divine, may be admitted to the presence of the Holy Father. Roman Catholics genuflect and kiss the papal ring; others merely bow and the Pope usually shakes hands.
Pius XII has a talent for convincing his visitors that his daily routine is almost something new and spontaneous. Addressing a few words to each, usually in the stranger’s own tongue (he speaks eight languages fluently), he tries always to strike a personal note. He asked Tyrone Power for news of the Hollywood Bowl, spoke of the Rue St.
Catherine and Gaspé salmon to a lady from Montreal, and chatted with Yehudi Menuhin about the musician’s Stradivarius. (As a boy, Pacelli himself played the violin and he loves fine music.)
Those close to him say that the Pope’s interest in people is sincere. Only the restraints of his high office, they report, prevent him from showing even more of the warmth of his personality. He is said to take a sympathetic interest in even the minor personal problems of those nearest him.
The Law was not for Eugenio
YET PIUS XII appreciates fully that audiences help to boost the strength of his church, and he knows that a natural gesture impresses the world more than five encyclics and two consistories. People are less likely to understand Latin than bicycle racing—and its present ruler is well aware that the church has greater need of understanding and support today than perhaps ever before.
Perhaps 90 million Catholics have been swallowed up by Communism. Behind the iron curtain, Roman Catholic clerics are being muzzled and thrown into jail. In all lands Communist materialism is challenging Christian teachings. Today Pope Pius XII is calling on a lifetime of training to help his church meet its great challenge.
Eugenio Pacelli was born March 2, 1876. His father, member of a wealthy family ánd dean of the consistory attorneys at the Vatican, hoped he would be a lawyer but instead he was ordained a priest at 23. Almost from the start his church career was in the diplomatic service; a brilliant student, his rise was rapid.
Soon after Pacelli received his cardinal’s hat in 1929 Pius XI named him his secretary of state. As such he visited Continued on page 35
Warrior in the Vatican
Continued from page 16
most of the countries of Europe and spent several months in the United States. When Pius XI died Pacelli became the first papal secretary of state to ascend to the church throne; this was 1939 and the College of Cardinals undoubtedly was moved by the pressure of world events to select a man schooled in the world’s political ways.
At first the new Pope’s actions indicated that his schooling had taught him chiefly to be a mediator, a peacemaker. He tried to patch up things between Hitler and Poland until the moment the Nazi tanks started rolling. Mussolini is said once to have sneered: “How wrong I was to be afraid of this Pacelli being elected ... I thought he was a schemer ready to make things hard for us . . . his prudence makes him a weakling.”
But Vatican sources tell of the morning in February, 1945, at the time of the Yalta conference, when Count de la Torre, editor of Osservatore Romano, informed Pius XII of Stalin’s reported crack to Roosevelt: “The
Pope? How many divisions has he fcot?” The Holy Father is said to have gone striding swiftly across his studio to stop before a painting of Pope Pius V. And, gazing at it fixedly, he was overheard to murmur to himself, “And he ... did he have any divisions?”
That day the Vatican City knew that Eugenio Pacelli had taken Pius V as his model and patron—the last Pontiff to organize a Western crusade to destroy the barbarian forces of the Orient when he allied Spanish and Venetian forças which stopped the westward-pushing Turks at the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571.
Cardinals in the Senate
Today the Pope’s prestige gains with every Moscow setback. The political assaults suffered by his clergy are winning him the sympathy and solidarity of his people such as he had never known before. In this war of ideas the Pope’s divisions are invisible. Nevertheless, the organization which he controls is a world force to be reckoned with. As “Sovereign of the State of the City of the Vatican” he is temporal ruler of a courtyard realm boasting only 916 subjects, but spiritually he reigns over 370 million souls.
This vast spiritual force is directed through an organization of close to 2 million priests, monks and nuns, 964 bishops, 333 metropolitans, 36 archbishops, 14 patriarchs and 68 cardinals. The College of Cardinals serves as the church’s supreme senate; the cardinals are the Pope’s immediate advisers and from their number are chosen heads for the 11 church “ministries,” known as congregations.
Of all the Pope’s advisers, however, the papal secretary of state ranks as the prime minister of the Vatican cabinet, and it is undoubtedly significant that since 1944 Pius XII has, in effect, retained this important portfolio for himself.
Thousands upon thousands of words of coded reports reach the Vatican daily from the 43 apostolic nunciatures and 23 apostolic delegations which serve the Roman Catholic Church as ambassadors, ministers and counsels in foreign capitals. Digested reports of these dispatches, of information received from the representatives of 32 countries which maintain ambassadors at the Vatican, and of foreign broadcasts monitored by the Vatican’s own radiolistening post, reach the Pope constantly through his state secretariat.
The man at the peak of this complex
church organization today, the man who must listen, think, pray and decide upon his church’s future course of action, is 73 years old but does not look it. He has large deep-set eyes, an authoritative nose, fleshy lips imprisoned by two deep wrinkles. He is tall and emaciated, strides swiftly on his afternoon walks through the Vatican gardens, talks quickly and vivaciously with intimates and visitors. He likes to smile.
His sense of humor can be biting. The story goes that, one day he was listening to a nervous envoy who kept repeating endlessly, “If Your Holiness believes, if the Pope believes, if you think, if the Pontiff believes . . .”
Pius XII cried out: “Naturally My Holiness believes. If I don’t believe, I the Father of Believers, who do you think believes?”
The most striking thing about him is his glance, darting, restless, full of vitality, denoting an exceptional nervous tension.
The Tomb Awaits Next Door
Like all sovereigns he must bow to an inexorable etiquette which encompasses his private life. His sacred dedication as a religious ruler only heightens his aloneness and his iron self-discipline.
Five days before his election as Pope the then papal secretary of state had by custom to tap three times on the skull of the deceased Achille Ratti, Pius XI, each time asking the corpse: “Achille, are you asleep?”
Pacelli has never forgotten this (he keeps the little silver gavel in his room) or the lesson that Popes work and sleep beside their tomb. A few yards from the Pontiff’s apartments awaits the vault of St. Peter where Popes are buried.
Since his succession Pius XII has gone beyond the borders of the 100-acre Vatican state only twice, to stay for short periods at his summer palace outside Rome.
Of the vast Vatican palaces’ 11,000 rooms, grouped about 20 courtyards and linked by miles of passageways and 300 staircases, the Pope’s private apartments occupy five third-floor rooms. His spacious bedroom is sparsely furnished. He sleeps on the same large iron bed with brass knobs upon which his predecessor slept and died.
His desk in the adjoining study is as picturesque as President Truman’s. On it sit his white portable typewriter and his two white plastic telephones, one of which is a direct line to the automatic switchboard (anyone in the Vatican can phone the Pope, but no one dares). His desk lamp is white as are his American fountain pens (although he dislikes ink, prefers using pencil or typewriter), his glasses, robes, silken cap and his gloves, made expressly for him in Arles, France. Only his cloth shoes are red. The white intensifies his pallor and his tired features.
Altogether the palaces and courts occupy 55,000 square yards—one eighth of the Vatican state — and going through them is like wandering in a maze. As you climb a broad marble staircase, gazing at Gobelin tapestries, Sevres vases, the statues of Michelangelo and the paintings of Raphael, you lose yourself in the long past. Then suddenly you are confronted by a modern elevator, the doors operated by photoelectric cell.
I once found myself in a huge room lined with Cordovan leather, decorated with pieces of antique gold, magnificent brocade and crystal goblets. It was used as a storeroom for brooms and pails.
Women are forbidden to wear too short dresses or bare arms when visiting
the Vatican, yet in no other state buildings in the world are there so many paintings of nude women.
Such contrasts strike you at every street corner. On the Vatican heights can be seen the antennae of the radio station, constructed under the personal guidance of Marconi. Its broadcasts reach the whole world yet the citizens of Vatican city never listen to it. The city has a completely automatic railroad with silent engines and yet no traveler ever arrives, there is no timetable, waiting room or ticket window. It carries only goods.
Tourists besiege the Vatican post office for stamps bearing the Pope’s effigy, and these sales have become an important part of the state income. And yet the post office does not function within the state itself: there are no mailmen for it is just as .easy to carry a letter to a neighbor’s house as to a postbox. A large studio produces religious and documentary films, but there is no movie theatre or other place of entertainment.
As a guest at the only hotel in the state I had to have a police permit. (My typewriter was banned because it made too much noise.) Guest or resident, anyone who wishes to take a little stroll in foreign (Italian) territory must return before 11 p.m. or else be reported by a policeman.
A “City” Without Noise
The Vatican has its own army to defend the Pope’s temporal domain, comprised of three corps. Members of the Roman aristocracy make up the Noble Guard which is the personal escort of the Holy Father. The guard has 94 officers and no other ranks.
Then there is the corps of Swiss Guards, heir to the legendary mercenaries and recruited from Swiss or German descent. These are tall, handsome, blond young men who wear the red, yellow and blue taffeta uniforms designed by Michelangelo. Finally, there is the Palatine Guard, composed of volunteers from Rome’s middle class and artisans. Nobles, Swiss and Palatines are armed to the teeth with halberds, swords, daggers, pikes and spears, and wear magnificent coats of mail, vizors, brassards and helmets.
The inhabitants of the “City of God” not only owe absolute obedience to the Sovereign, but base their lives on his. When in the morning about 6.30 a light glimmers in the third window on the top floor looking out on the Square of St. Peter everyone knows that the Holy Father has risen and everywhere else life begins, too. But it is a mute life. The people seem to talk, walk, pray, work, sing and live without noise, like players in a film with a broken sound track.
The Pope has fixed habits. After the brief prayer he says at his window upon rising he takes a cold bath, summer and winter, then shaves with an electric razor (white, of course) and says mass in his private chapel next to his room. Not until 8.30, his devotions ended, can he think of food, which is prepared by the three Swiss nuns who serve as housekeepers for the Papal apartment. The nuns never see the Pope who is waited on by a personal male servant.
The breakfast menu never changes —coffee, with a dash of milk, and a buttered roll. Perhaps lingering at the breakfast table, or moving to his nearby study, he reads through the digest of world radio news prepared by his staff overnight, and looks over the Italian and a selection of foreign newspapers. By 9 o’clock he has taken the elevator to the floor below and touched a bell in the library there as a signal that the day’s audiences are to begin.
First visitors are his undersecretaries of state bringing him confidential reports on political and religious problems, and other senior church officers. Then follow private audiences for foreign diplomats and other visiting VIP’s. Perhaps not until 1.30 is there opportunity for the public audiences to begin; they last perhaps half an hour.
Lunch is late and, as with all other meals, the Pope eats alone. The mid-day menu is Italian: a plate of
rice, or soup with noodles; more rarely, and then only sparingly, spaghetti with a little butter. This is followed by a slice of roast veal and green vegetables, or boiled fish; and almost invariably there is an orange for dessert.
A Walk in an Empty Garden
The Pope likes to accompany his meal with a single glass of white wine. There are no sauces, condiments or spices on the table. He finishes with a cup of strong black coffee.
Following a siesta Pius leaves his palace at 4 o’clock to drive to the immense Vatican gardens. His car, an American limousine chosen for its silent engine, is dark and massive and never exceeds 25 miles an hour. For an hour the Pope paces alone through the elaborate gardens—the gates are always closed while he is there-—reading and meditating as he walks. Back in his private apartments he is alone in his chapel again for a period, works alone at his desk for an hour or so, and has dinner (generally two hardboiled eggs and vegetables, often spinach, fruits and white wine followed by black coffee).
After prayers in the chapel he returns to his study to begin his real workday at his desk, where he prepares speeches and attends to the matters brought to him earlier in the day. The light in the room over St. Peter’s Square usually burns until 1.30 or 2 a.m.
So it is late at night that the Pope makes important decisions, and studies secret reports on the Kremlin. Many of these come from distraught political leaders. Pius XII acts fairly severely toward them; some he accuses of having become the blind instruments of Moscow, betrayed by their equivocal attitude. He said once to Msgr. Montini, one of his undersecretaries:
“All these lamentations from behind the iron curtain remind me of the statues on the basilica of St. Peter. From my window these sculptures of Christ and the 12 apostles look magnificent, grandiose, imposing. But if you go up to the cupola and look at them at close range you realize that they are out of proportion and grotesque, that the marble is badly finished and that their enormous size makes them even more hideous.
“Communism is like that. To certain intellectuals, to naïve peoples and timid politicians, Moscow seems invincible, dazzling, the harbinger of terrestial happiness, the solution to all their ills. But as soon as they get the chance of seeing the colossus at close range and tasting the joys of the regime, they have but one desire—to flee, escape from the brutal mass which threatens to crush them.” ★
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