Friday, December 12, 2008

A pope’s view of Mussolini

The diaries of Papa Giovanni XXIII (Pope John XXIII) are being published in full next week, but only in Italian. According to press reports, these show his views about Benito Mussolini wavered much over time. An edited version of his spiritual diary in English has been available for over 40 years, since just after his death in 1963; and more recently some prophetic statements, said to come from the pope’s diaries, have been quoted widely on the internet.

There is no shortage of information about Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli on the internet. Try Wikipedia, The Vatican, or Time Magazine (which carried an archive article on him dating from his inauguration as pope in 1958). He was born at Sotto il Monte, Bergamo, the fourth child in a large religious family of sharecroppers, and entered the Bergamo seminary when only 11, which is where he began to make spiritual diary notes, a practice he continued throughout his life. He was ordained in 1904 as a priest and was soon appointed secretary to the bishop of Bergamo. From 1915, Roncalli served as a military chaplain, and in 1920 was made director of the Italian organisation for the support of foreign missions. In 1925 he was ordained bishop.

Pope Pius XI brought him in to the Vatican’s diplomatic service and, thereafter, he served in Bulgaria, where he remained until 1935, Greece and Turkey (1935-1944), and France (1944-1953). During the last months of the war and after peace was achieved he aided prisoners of war and helped to normalise the ecclesiastical organisation in France. In 1953, he was created a cardinal and sent to Venice as Patriarch. Five years later, he was elected pope, and took the name John XXIII. Although his pontificate lasted only five years, he is considered to have been one of the most popular popes of modern times (due, it is said, to his personal warmth, good humour and kindness), and to have begun a new era of openness in the Roman Catholic Church.

An edited version of his spiritual diary was published in 1965 - Journal of the Soul. The Diary Junction gives links to websites with some extracts. Here is one of ten resolutions he committed to his diary in 1897 while still a teenager: ‘At table, whether speaking or eating, I will never be greedy or immoderate; I will always find an opportunity for a little mortification; as regards the drinking of wine I will be more than moderate, because in wine lies the same danger as in women: ‘Wine and women lead intelligent men astray.’

More recently, several websites have carried a number of supposed extracts from the pope’s diaries. Here is what Morgana’s Observatory says: ‘The following article has been published by various sources on the Internet, including Insight Magazine. I have not found this ‘diary’ mentioned anywhere but on the WWW. It is republished here for general interest only. Its authenticity is strongly in doubt. The dusty, leather-bound diary containing handwritten predictions was found by a Vatican cleaning woman who was sorting through boxes stacked in a seldom used storage room. . . Father DeAngelo, now 73 years old has agreed to release some of the diary entries made between February of 1959 and April of 1963. The scrawled messages reveal a frightened and excited Pontiff who decided to keep his meetings with Christ and the Madonna a secret.’ And here is one of the prophecies: 

6 March 1961
‘Just when I thought my heavenly visits were over, the Madonna comes to me once again. She seems tired of the heartache she must share with me. My heart aches to see him hurting so. The news, again foreboding. In the early 1990s there will be a period of deadly natural disasters. She says paradise will be struck by powerful winds and wails, while killer floods and violent earthquakes will shatter man’s dwellings. By the middle of the decade, regional skirmishes will develop into full-fledged conflicts. As the casualties mount, world-wide famine will strike. The devastation will be like none ever seen, especially throughout Africa where millions will perish.’

Now, though, Pope John XXIII’s diaries are being published in full (though I doubt they include the prophecies!). A grand launch is taking place next Tuesday at Oratorio del Gonfalone in Rome, presided over by some eminent doctors and professors, including Prof Valerio Onida, President of ‘Fondazione per le scienze religiose di Bologna’ which is publishing the diaries: I Diari di A.G. Roncalli - Giovanni XXIII. According to the foundation’s website, though, the ‘Edizione Nazionale’ of Roncalli’s diaries are being published in many volumes, the first of which seems to have appeared in 2004. Perhaps, therefore, the big event on Tuesday is to celebrate publication of the final volumes.

In any case, this week Times Online ran an article about the diaries being ‘published in full’. It says they confirm Roncalli regarded Mussolini, Italy’s Fascist dictator, as a man who had ‘committed errors’ but who had, nonetheless, brought Italy ‘great benefits’. The article carries several quotes, presumably translated by the article’s author, Richard Owen in Rome. (It is not clear, though, whether all these quotes come from the volumes actually being published next week.)

1924
‘In my conscience as a priest and a Christian, I do not feel I can vote for the Fascists. Of one thing I am certain: the salvation of Italy cannot come from Mussolini, even though he may be gifted. His goals may perhaps be good and correct, but the means he uses to realise them are wicked and contrary to the Gospel.’

1936
‘A hidden force is guiding [Mussolini] and protecting Italy.’

July 1943
‘The gravest news of the day is the withdrawal of Mussolini from power. . . The Duce’s gesture is I believe an act of wisdom which does him honour. No, I will not throw stones at him. For him too, sic transit gloria mundi. But the great good which he did for Italy remains. His withdrawal is an expiation for some of his sins. Dominus parcat illi (May the Lord have mercy on him).’

After the war, though, Owen writes, Roncalli described Mussolini’s dictatorship as an ‘immense calamity’ which had brought ‘great sorrow to the Italian people’.

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