Remembering Pope Pius XII
The recent Catholic New World interview with Martin Doorhy regarding Pope Pius XII (May 28-June 10) brought back many memories for one Catholic New World subscriber, Father Vincent J. Zarlenga, OP.
I lived in Rome during and after World War II, from 1941 to 1956.
As a young member of the international religious Order of Preachers, a k a the Dominicans, I resided in S. Maria Sopra Minerva located in the center of Rome, close to the Pantheon. As a college student, I walked to school every morning to the Pontifical International University Angelicum.
These war years were extremely difficult and painful, because Rome, like the rest of Italy, was occupied by the Nazis. Safety, food, clothing, all the necessities of life, were rare commodities. I knew hunger and privation.
In 1942 Pope Pius XII gave the order to all religious institutions to open their houses to anyone seeking refuge. Our large house and church welcomed over 100 men, most of them Jewish. They lived in our empty rooms, halls and even under the large roof of the church.
They were given all the assistance we could, but especially safety and a share of our meager food. Some were even allowed to wear the religious garb of Dominican lay brothers.
How many times Nazis soldiers came, especially at night, banging at our door, yelling: Do you have Jews here? We saved them from sure death in concentration camps by giving evasive answers or not answering at all. We truly placed our lives on the line for them until Rome was finally liberated.
The night the American forces entered Rome, in June 1944, all the Jewish refugees left our house in jubilation. A few days later they gathered with many others in St. Peters Square along with American soldiers and Italian citizens to express gratitude to the pope for all he had done to save Rome and its people. I was there. It was a moving sight Ill never forget. Later the Jewish community sent a letter of gratitude to our monastery.
Thank God for the heroic actions Pius XII, the church and Catholic organizations did to save thousands of Jews, at the risk of their own lives. I was there.
Zarlenga is founder/director of the Fra Angelico Art Foundation, a non-profit entity dedicated to promoting high quality art within the Judeo-Christian traditionone of its kind in America. He can be reached at (708) 771-0740.