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The Vatican & the Holocaust: Pope Pius XII's Easter Message in Vatican City

(April 13, 1941)

We most cordially greet you all, beloved sons and daughters of Rome and of the entire world, in the spirit of Alleluia of Easter morn, in the joyful spirit of the resurrection and peace in Christ, after the desolation of His divine passion; but, unfortunately, there has been no resurrection, no restoration, of peace among nations and in Our joyful greeting to you there must be intermingled that note of distress which was the cause of great sadness and continual sorrow to the heart of Paul the Apostle while he was preoccupied about his brethren who were his kinsmen according to the flesh (Romans 9: 12).

In the lamentable spectacle of human conflict which We are now witnessing We acknowledge the valor and loyalty of all those who with a deep sense of duty are fighting for the defense and prosperity of their homeland. We recognize, too, the prodigious and, in itself, efficacious development made in industrial and technical fields, nor do We overlook the many generous and praiseworthy gestures of magnanimity which have been made towards the enemy; but while We acknowledge, We feel obliged nonetheless to state that the ruthless struggle has at times assumed forms which can be described only as atrocious. May all belligerents, who also have human hearts moulded by mothers' love, show some feeling of charity for the sufferings of civilian populations, for defenseless women and children, for the sick and aged, all of whom are often exposed to greater and more widespread perils of war than those faced by soldiers at the front!

We beseech the belligerent powers to abstain until the very end from the use of still more homicidal instruments of warfare; for the introduction of such weapons inevitably results in their retaliatory use, often with greater violence by the enemy. If already We must lament the fact that the limits of legitimate warfare have been repeatedly exceeded, would not the more widespread use of increasingly barbarous offensive weapons soon transform war into unspeakable horror?

In this tempest of misfortunes and perils, of afflictions and fears, our most powerful and safest haven of trust and peace is found in prayer to God, in Whose hands rest not only the destiny of men but also the outcome of their most obdurate dissensions. Wherefore We express Our gratitude to Catholics of the entire World for the fervor with which they responded to Our call to prayer and sacrifice for peace on Nov. 24.

Today We repeat that invitation to you and to all those who raise their minds and hearts to God and We beseech you not to relax your prayerful vigilance but rather to re-animate and redouble it. Yes, let us pray for early peace. Let us pray for universal peace; not for peace based upon the oppression and destruction of peoples but peace which, while guaranteeing the honor of all nations, will satisfy their vital needs and insure the legitimate rights of all.

We have constantly accompanied prayer with Our own endeavors. To the very limit of Our power and with a vigilant consciousness of impartiality in spirit, and in Our apostolic office We have left nothing undone or untried in order to forestall or shorten the conflict, to humanize the methods of war, to alleviate suffering and to bring assistance and comfort to the victims of war. We have not hesitated to indicate in unmistakenly clear terms the necessary principles and sentiments which must constitute the determining basis of a future peace that will assure the sincere and loyal consent of all peoples. But We are saddened to note that there seems to be as yet little likelihood of an approximate realization of peace that will be just, in accordance with human and Christian norms.

Thus Our supplications to heaven must be raised with ever increasing meaning and fervor, that a new spirit may take root and develop in all peoples and especially among those whose greater power gives them wider influence and imposes upon them additional responsibility; the spirit of willingness, devoid of sham and' artifice, that is ready to make mutual sacrifices in order to build, upon the accumulated ruins of war, a new edifice of fraternal solidarity among the nations of the world, an edifice built upon new and stronger foundations, with fixed and stable guarantees, and with a high sense of moral sincerity which would repudiate every double standard of morality and justice for the great and the small or for the strong and the weak.

Truth like man has but a single face: and truth is Our weapon just as prayer is Our defense and strength, and the living sincere and disinterested apostolic word inspired by fraternal affection, Our entree to the hearts of men.

These are not offensive and bloody weapons but the arms of spirit, arms of Our mind and heart. Nothing can impede or restrain Us from using them to secure and safeguard just rights, true human brotherhood and genuine peace, wherever the sacred duty of Our office prompts Us and compassion for the multitude rekindles Our love.

Nothing can restrain Us from repeatedly calling to the observance of the precept of love those who are children of the Church of Christ, those who because of their faith in the Divine Saviour at least in Our Father Who is in Heaven are very near to Us.

Nothing can impede or restrain Us from doing all in Our power in order that, in the tempest of surging waves of enmity among the peoples of the earth, the Divine Ark of the Church of Christ may be held firmly by the anchor of hope under the golden rays of peace-that blessed vision of peace which, in the midst of worldly conflicts, is the refuge and abode and sustenance of that fraternal spirit, founded in God and ennobled in the shadow of the Cross, with which the course must be set if we are to escape from the present tempest and reach the shore of a happier and more deserving future.

However, under the vigilant Providence of God and armed only with prayer, exhortation and consolation, We shall persevere in Our battle for peace in behalf of suffering humanity May the blessings and comforts of Heaven descend on all victims of this war: upon you who are prisoners and upon your families from whom you are separated and who are anxious about you; and upon you refugees and dispossessed who have lost your homes and land, your life's support. We share with you your anguish and suffering. If it is not allowed Us as We would honestly desire-to take upon Ourselves the burden of your sorrows, may Our paternal and cordial sympathy serve as the balm which will temper the bitterness of your misfortune with today's greeting of the Alleluia, the hymn of Christ's triumph over earthly martyrdom, the blossom of the olive tree of Gethsemane flourishing in the precious hope of resurrection and of the new and eternal life in which there will be neither sorrows nor struggles. In this vale of tears there is no lasting city (Hebrews 13: 14), no eternal homeland.

Here below we are all exiles and wanderers; our true citizenship, which is limitless, is in Heaven, in eternity, in God. If worldly hopes have bitterly deluded you, remember that hope in God never fails or deceives. You must make one resolve-not to allow yourself to be induced, either by your sad lot or by the malice of men to waver in your allegiance to Christ.

Prosperity and adversity are part and parcel of man's earthly existence; but what is of the utmost importance, and We say it with St. Augustine, is the use that is made of what is called prosperity or adversity. For the virtuous man is neither exalted by worldly well-being nor humbled by temporal misfortune; the evil man on the other hand, being corrupted in prosperity, is made to suffer in adversity.

To the powers occupying territories during the war, We say with all due consideration: let your conscience guide you in dealing justly, humanely and providently with the peoples of occupied territories. Do not impose upon them burdens which you in similar circumstances have felt or would feel to be unjust.

Prudent and helpful humanitarianism is the commendation and boast of wise generals; and the treatment of prisoners and civilians in occupied areas is the surest indication and proof of the civilization of individuals and nations. But above all remember that upon the manner in which you deal with those whom the fortunes of war put in your hands may depend the blessing or curse of God upon your own land.

Contemplation of a war that is so cruel in all its aspects and the thought of the suffering children of the Church inspires in the heart of the Common Father and forms upon Our lips words of comfort and encouragement for the pastors and faithful of those places where the Church, the Spouse of Christ, is suffering most; where fidelity to her, the public profession of her doctrines, the conscientious and practical observance of her laws, moral resistance to atheism and to de-Christianizing influences deliberately favored or tolerated, are being openly or insidiously opposed and daily in various ways made increasingly difficult.

The records and artifices of this generally secret but at times even public martyrdom, which insidious or open impiety makes followers of the Crucified suffer, are multiplying daily and constitute as it were in an encyclopedia of many volumes, annals of heroic sacrifices, and furnish moving verification of the words of Our Divine Saviour: "The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 5:20).

Is this divine warning not a source of tender comfort on that sorrowful and bitter Way of the Cross which you are following because of your fidelity to Christ? To all of you who are walking so sadly along this way, priests and Religious, men and women and particularly you young men, pride and joy of your families, who are called upon to bear the burden of these merciless and bitter days-whatever be your origin, language, race, social condition or profession-all you upon whom the seal of suffering for Christ is stamped so clearly, a sign no less of suffering than of glory, as it was to the great Apostle Paul; you are numbered among those privileged intimate who are nearest to the Cross of Calvary and by this very fact nearest also to the pierced Heart of Christ and to Our own.

Oh that We were able to make you appreciate how profoundly Our heart has been pierced by the cry of the Apostle of the Gentiles "Who is weak, and I am not weak?" (Second Corinthians 11:29). The sacrifices you are called upon to make, your suffering in mind and body, your concern for your own faith and still more for the faith of your children, We are aware of them, We share them with you, We lament them before God.

And yet withal, on this day We greet you with joyful Alleluia; for it is the day of Christ's triumph over His crucifiers, open and secret, ancient and modern. We convey that greeting to you with the voice and confidence with which, even in the days of the persecution, the early Christians exultantly sang that Alleluia. Perhaps you do not recall the words of Our Lord to Martha: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me shall not die forever" (John ii: 25:26). The certainty they were assuring themselves of resurrection made of martyrs heroes of Christ and faithful unto death. You enjoy that same certainty. Imitate them and with the greatest Prophet of the New and Eternal Testament raise your eyes to that Heavenly Jerusalem where Christ gloriously reigns and rules and while rewarding His good and faithful servants proclaims the mystery and splendor of their triumph in the shining whiteness of their garments, in the indelible inscription of their names in the Book of Life and decreeing that they be exalted before His Father and the Heavenly Court, with admirable words which you in your perilous trials must never forget: "He that shall overcome shall thus be clothed in white garments and I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels" (Apocalypse 3: 5).

Beloved sons and daughters! Jesus Christ, "Prince of Kings on earth, Who hath loved us and washed us from our sin in His Own blood" (Apocalypse 1:5), raise your eyes while, as pledge of that heavenly peace which He alone can give to us and which We implore of Him in superabundant measure for all humanity, We impart to you, to pastors and faithful, to your families, to your children, that Christ may protect and keep you in His grace and love, to those who in the fulfillment of duty are fighting on land and sea and in the sky and especially to all those who have been so severely lashed by the scourge of war with heart overflowing with love. Our paternal Apostolic Benediction.

May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, descend upon you and remain forever, Amen.

[1] The Catholic News, April 19, 1941.

Sources: ibiblio