Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), Pope

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Feast Day: October 9
Venerated: December 19, 2009

Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli was born in Rome, Italy, in 1876. His father hoped that Eugenio would follow in his footsteps as a canon lawyer. As Eugenio studied the legal system of the Catholic Church, he decided that he wanted to become a priest. He was ordained in 1899.

Father Pacelli was not a parish priest. Because of his training in canon law, he was chosen to be a diplomat for the Church. He worked in the Vatican and traveled around the world to help governments better understand our Church. He was made a cardinal by Pope Pius XI, and in 1939 he was elected pope. He chose the name “Pius” out of respect for the previous Holy Father.

As pope, Pius XII had to deal with the Nazi persecution of Jewish people and World War II. Pius worked for peace and to help the Jews. When the Nazis occupied Rome, the Holy Father opened the Vatican to more than a million refugees, providing food and shelter for them. He encouraged priests working in war-torn countries to speak out against the Nazis and to help those affected by the persecution.

The Chief Rabbi of Rome was so moved by the Pope’s work to bring justice to the Jewish people that he became a Catholic. After the war, the government of Israel promised to plant 850,000 trees in Pope Pius’ honor—one for each Jewish life that was saved by his actions.

After the war, the pope did many important things. He was the first pope to use radio and television to speak to his brothers and sisters around the world. He fought against Communism. In consultation with the bishops, he declared an important teaching of the Church—the doctrine of the Assumption. The Assumption is our belief that Our Blessed Mother Mary was “assumed” or taken up into heaven body and soul at the end of her earthly life. This is a great mystery of our faith.

The Church honors Pope Pius XII as “Venerable,” a step on the road to sainthood. His example teaches us the importance of standing up against prejudice and the unfair treatment of others.

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