Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pope of the Week: Pius XI 1922-1939

Born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, his father owned a silk factory near Milan. He was ordained as a priest in 1879, then studied for and obtained three doctorates (in philosophy, canon law and theology). His speciality was paleography, a study of ancient and medieval Church manuscripts. He then became a librarian. He was also an avid mountaineer in his spare time, reaching the summits of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc among others. In 1911, at Pope Pius X's invitation, he moved to the Vatican to become Vice-Prefect of the Vatican Library, and in 1914 was promoted to Prefect.

In June 1921 Ratti became Archbishop of Milan. Pope Benedict XV made him a Cardinal. In January 1922 Benedict XV died unexpectedly of pneumonia. Ratti was elected Pope (or "poped up") on February 6, 1922. In 1929 he signed a treaty with the Italian state that recognised the independence of The Vatican.

He signed treaties with various other states including Germany. Pius XI made clear his opposition to the extreme anti-semitic policies and acts of Germany, and also to Stalin's persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union. Stalin is reputed to have said "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?"

Pius XI died on February 10, 1939, aged 81. He had been in poor health for some time. He had been scheduled to deliver a blunt strongly worded address attacking fascism and anti-semitism on February 11, 1939. According to a French cardinal named Tisserant, twenty-four hours before delivering this address, the Pope was given an injection by Dr. Francesco Petacci the Vatican doctor, whose daughter Clara Petacci was the mistress of Mussolini. As a result of the injection, the Pope reportedly died hours before delivering his historic attack on Mussolini and European fascism.

Mussolini's reported reaction to the pope's death was "Thank God that stubborn old man is gone!"

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