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Pope feels close to Pius X, who “wept” due to WWI

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican on April 03, 2024

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 04/19/24

"How close I feel to him in this tragic moment of the modern world ..." said Pope Francis remembering St. Pius X who was pope from 1903 to 1914.

“I love Pius X very much and have always loved him,” Pope Francis wrote in the preface to a book dedicated to this pope, who was pontiff from 1903 to 1914. The book, titled “Omaggio a Pio X. Ritratti coevi”  (meaning “Tribute to Pius X. Contemporary Portraits”), was written by an official of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, Father Lucio Bonora, and was released in Italian by the publisher Kappadue.

The book features 80 works (medals, sculptures, paintings) created during Pius X’s pontificate. The text of Pope Francis’ preface was published on April 17, 2024, by the Italian edition of Vatican News.

“Pius X was a Pope who wept in the face of [the First] World War, of which he was considered the first victim, imploring the powerful to lay down their arms,” wrote Pope Francis, recalling the tragic death of his Italian predecessor, who passed away on August 20, 1914. The Church marks his feast day each August 21.

He died at age 79, against the backdrop of a weakening papacy, which by then had no territorial power, and was powerless to stop the warmongering of the European leaders of the day who would drag millions of people into a devastating conflict. 

A personal connection

“How close I feel to him in this tragic moment of the modern world …” emphasized Francis, who himself wept on December 8, 2022, as he venerated a statue of Mary on top of the column near the Spanish Steps in Rome. He lamented his powerlessness in bringing the war in Ukraine to an end.

The Argentine Pontiff has often responded to criticisms of “pacifism” by referring to the attitude of Pius X and Benedict XV during the First World War, as their calls for peace were rejected by the belligerents.

In this highly personal preface, Pope Francis also paid tribute to St. Pius X’s commitment to catechizing children and ensuring their access to Communion, explaining that, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he himself made it a habit to bring together the catechists of his diocese every August 21, the day of his predecessor’s feast day.

This Italian pope “made the entire Church understand that without the Eucharist and without the assimilation of revealed truths, personal faith weakens and dies,” Francis wrote.

Francis’ devotion to St. Pius X

Beatified in 1951 and canonized in 1954, Pius X was greatly venerated “by simple people, the faithful, priests, parishes, students of Catholic schools scattered around the world with many religious devoted to them, but also by intellectuals and statesmen,” Francis underlined.

He also paid tribute to St. Pius X’s support for the creation of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. The current Pope expressed his gratitude, “as a Jesuit,” for the “theological and spiritual benefits” offered by this institution. 

Highlighting the popular success of the recent pilgrimage of the relics of St. Pius X in the Dioceses of Treviso, Padua, and Venice in autumn 2023, Pope Francis emphasized that “Pius X is not confined to past eras of history or monopolized by particular groups, but belongs to the Church today, to the people of the Church, that is, to the people, the baptized of all ages.”

He thus relativizes the appropriation of this pope’s legacy by the Society of St. Pius X, which was led by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and resulted in a schism with Rome in 1988.

Pope Francis has often presented himself as a “devotee” of Pius X. On August 21, 2015, he attended a Mass celebrated by Father Lucio Bonora, the priest-author of the book, in the chapel housing the tomb of Pius X, in St. Peter’s Basilica. To everyone’s surprise, the Argentine Pontiff slipped in among the ordinary faithful, standing in line to receive Communion without any of the usual protocol. 

“Viva St. Pius X and may He live deeply in the heart of the Church today!” the Pope concludes the preface. 

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