Archive for Monday, September 4, 2000

Popes elevated toward sainthood

The beatification of Pius IX drew protests from Jewish groups

September 4, 2000


— Pope John Paul II advanced two predecessors toward sainthood Sunday in one of the most disputed such acts of his papacy, beatifying the 19th century's much-attacked Pius IX alongside the 20th century's much-beloved John XXIII.

Jews bitterly protested John Paul's recognition of Pius, who over history's longest papacy confined Jews to Rome's ghetto, condoned the church seizure of a Jewish-born boy and allegedly referred to Jews themselves as "dogs."

The Israeli government itself expressed "deep sorrow," especially in light of the progress John Paul's own 22-year papacy has made in Catholic-Jewish relations.

John Paul acknowledged the rancor, calling Pius "much loved, but also hated and slandered."

"Beatifying a son of the church does not celebrate particular historic choices that he has made, but rather points him out for imitation and for veneration for his virtue, praising the divine grace that shines in him," said John Paul, wearing bright green and gold robes.

An estimated 100,000-strong crowd of banner-waving pilgrims and Italy's staunchly Catholic nobles and politicians filled St. Peter's Square.

On the eve of the ceremony, hundreds of Rome's Jews and Catholics protested the beatification in a candlelight vigil.

Elena Mortara, whose great-great uncle was taken from her Jewish family by papal guards in 1858, called the beatification the "reopening of a wound."

Pius' church seized the 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara upon hearing a Catholic housemaid secretly had baptized him. Edgardo grew up to enter the priesthood under Pius' patronage.

Israel's minister for Diaspora Affairs, Rabbi Michael Melchior, expressed "deep sorrow" Sunday-- conveying a tone of disappointment repeatedly heard from Jews in the wake of the beatification.

Recalling John Paul's pilgrimage to Jerusalem's Western Wall in March, Melchior said, "as someone who saw the visit as a positive, historical turning point, I would expect the Vatican to show greater sensitivity toward the believers of other religions."

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League called the beatification "troubling."

Pius' tumultuous 1846-1878 papacy saw the often violent breakup of the centuries-old papal states. Noble-born Italians, of which he was one, gave him the name "The Last King Pope."

In contrast, Italians today still know the jovial, jowly, peasant-born John XXIII simply as "The Good Pope."

Both men's terms, while vastly different, ushered in historic changes, convening the only two Vatican councils of modern times.

John XXIII started the church's liberalizations of the 1960s, convening the council that went on, after his death, to approve such innovations as allowing Mass in local languages in its bid to more closely involve the laity in the church.

John, pope from 1958 to 1963, reached out to Jews and was, and still is, much beloved by liberal Catholics.

Weeks before he died of stomach cancer in 1963 less than five years into his papacy, John issued the groundbreaking "Pacem in terris" (peace on Earth) encyclical that set recognition of human rights as essential for world peace.

John Paul has since made the same point throughout his papacy, in contrast to Pius IX, who condemned freedom of speech and religion as one of many "modern errors."

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