Benedict XVI’s “pilgrimage” — as he chose to call it — to the Fosse Ardeatine to pay homage to the victims of the appalling massacre which lives on, indelible, among the many horrors of the Second World War, was given no coverage in the media; perhaps partly because of the rapid succession of events in the international arena. Yet Benedict XVI’s Visit to this Sacrarium “dear to all Italians”, in continuity with the Visits of Paul VI and of John Paul II, and wishing to pray and to “refresh the memory” — has a special significance which endures.
Their Successor has in fact taken another step in the recomposition of the memory of that conflict which contributed to plunging the 20th century into the abyss of evil. As Benedict XVI said exactly a month after his election, reflecting on the latest papal successions.
In this way, it is necessary to consider, the new Pope said, “Under the light of Providence, how can we not read as a divine plan the fact that on the Chair of Peter, a Polish Pope is succeeded by a citizen of that Country, Germany, where the Nazi regime was the most vicious, attacking the nearby nations, Poland among them?
“In their youth, both of these Popes — even if on opposing fronts and in different situations — knew the cruelty of the Second World War and of the senseless violence of men fighting men, people fighting people”.
In the presence of the Chief Rabbi of the oldest community of the Western diaspora, ferociously damaged by racial persecution, also at the Fosse Ardeatine, the Bishop of Rome, a “city consecrated by the blood of the martyrs”, wished to meet at length the relatives of the victims — Catholics and Jews together — and paid homage to their memory, in a place close to the catacombs and from which one again the prayer of the Psalms was raised, which for many centuries both Jews and Christians prayed to the one God.
It was that God to whom in the hour of darkness two of these who died had turned, as did others in those days, to assert their faith “in God and in Italy”, and to implore the protection of the Jews “from barbarous persecutions”.
Benedict XVI quoted their words, recalling the 150th anniversary of the Unificaiton of the country and repeating that in the Father of all a different future is possible. That does not offend the holy Name of God and the human being created in his image.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 18, 2019
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