Rome — Descendants of a Jewish-born boy wrenched from his family in the 19th century with the blessing of Pope Pius IX joined hundreds in a candelight protest Saturday on the eve of Pius' beatification.
Pope John Paul II's planned declaration today of Pius as among the Roman Catholic Church's blessed "is the reopening of a wound. There's no doubt about it," said Elena Mortara, the abducted boy's great-great niece.
Today's beatification of Pius IX and the 20th century's John XXIII places the two predecessors of John Paul to the last formal step before possible sainthood.
Italian and international Jewish groups have protested Pius' beatification in large part because of the 1858 taking of 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara by papal guards. Church officials ordered the boy removed from his Jewish family in Bologna after hearing he had been secretly baptized by a Catholic housemaid.
Under Pius' patronage, Edgardo grew up a church ward and later a priest.
"That mother was deprived of her son," Giacomo Saban, an Italian Jewish leader, told the crowd. "The injury is still alive. It's still felt."
Other speakers read from passages of Pius' writing, including one in which he allegedly wrote Jews were not citizens but "dogs."
The church's "glorification" of Pius is a disappointment to those -- like the Mortara family -- who welcomed the dialogue John Paul had fostered among religions, Elena Mortara said.
Equally troublesome was that the precept that governed the taking of Edgardo remains church law today, she said.
Church tradition holds that Catholics have a duty to baptize any child -- Catholic or non-Catholic, with parents' permission or not -- if they believe the child's life in danger.
"We always thought that this ordeal was in the past," Elena Mortara said. "We are sorry that it has become a scandal of the present."
Pius IX, the son of a northern Italian count, was the last ruler before the abolition of the centuries-old Papal States in the 1870s largely did away with the church's temporal kingdom. During his papacy, he put papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary into church doctrine.