· Benedict XVI’s Visit to the Fosse Ardeatine ·
On Sunday morning, 27 March, the Holy Father visited the Sacrarium of the Fosse Ardeatine to commemorate the 67th anniversary (24 March) of the 1944 massacre by the Nazis of 335 Italians. He had been invited by the National Association of the Families of the Martyrs who Died for the Freedom of the Homeland (anfim). The Pope was welcomed there by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome, by Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo (the son of Colonel Giuseppe Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, who died in the massacre), by General Vittorio Barbato, General Commissioner for War Honours, Captain Francesco Sardone, Director of the Mausoleum, Mrs Rosina Stame, National President of anfim, and Prof. Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome. After laying a basket of flowers in front of the plaque commemorating the massacre, passing through the caves Holy Father arrived at the tombs in the Sacrarium where he knelt in prayer. Together the Pope and the Chief Rabbi recited a prayer for the dead. Afterwards the Holy Father signed the Visitors’ Book and, before taking his leave, on the square outside greeted the victims’ families and everyone present. The following is a translation of the Pope’s Greeting in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I very gladly accepted the invitation of the National Association of the Italian Families of the Martyrs who died for the freedom of the Homeland to come on pilgrimage to this Sacrarium, dear to all Italians and in particular to the people of Rome. I greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Chief Rabbi, the President of the Association, the General Commissioner, the Director of the Mausoleum and especially the families of the victims, as well as everyone present.
“I believe in God and in Italy / I believe in the resurrection /of the martyrs and heroes / I believe in the rebirth / of the homeland and in the / freedom of the people”. These words were carved on the wall of a torture cell in Via Tasso in Rome during the Nazi occupation. They are the testament of an unknown person who was imprisoned in that cell and show that the human spirit remains free even in the harshest conditions.
“I believe in God and in Italy”: these words struck me too because this year is the 150th Anniversary of the Unification of Italy, but especially because they affirm the primacy of faith, from which to draw trust and hope for Italy and for its future. What happened here on 24 March 1944 gravely offended God, because it was the deliberate violence of man against man. This is a most detestable effect of war, of every war, whereas God is life, peace and communion.
Like my Predecessors, I have come here to pray and to refresh my memory. I have come to invoke divine Mercy which alone can fill the emptiness, the gulf opened by human beings when, driven by blind violence, they deny the very dignity of God’s children, brothers and sisters of each other.
As Bishop of Rome, a city consecrated by the blood of the martyrs of the Gospel of Love, I also come to pay homage to these brethren, killed very close to the ancient catacombs.
“I believe in God and in Italy”. In that testament carved in a place of violence and death, the bond between faith and love of the homeland appears in its full purity, without any rhetoric. Whoever wrote these words did so only out of deep conviction, as the extreme testimony to the truth believed, which makes the human soul royal even in extreme debasement. In this way every man is called to fulfil his own dignity: by testifying to this truth which each recognizes in conscience.
Another testimony impressed me and this was discovered actually inside the Fosse Ardeatine. It is a sheet of paper on which one of those who died had written: “God my great Father, we pray you that you may protect the Jews from barbarous persecution. One Our Father , two Hail Mary s, one Glory Be ”. At that moment, so tragic, so inhuman, in that person’s heart was the loftiest invocation: “God my great Father”. Father of All! Just as the words on the lips of Jesus, dying on the Cross were “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. In that name, “Father”, is the sure guarantee of hope; the possibility of a different future, free from hatred and revenge, a future of freedom and brotherhood, for Rome, for Italy, for Europe, for the world.
Yes, wherever they may be, on every continent, to whatever people they may belong, human beings are children of that Father who is in Heaven, they are brothers or sisters of all in humanity. However, this being a son and a brother is not easy. The Fosse Ardeatine also unfortunately demonstrate this. It is necessary to desire it, it is necessary to say “yes” to goodness and “no” to evil. It is necessary to believe in the God of love and of life and to reject every other false divine image that betrays his holy Name and consequently betrays man, made in his image.
Therefore, in this place, a sorrowful memorial of the most horrendous crime, the truest response is to take one another by the hand, as bothers and sisters, and to say: “Our Father, we believe in you and with the strength of your love we want to walk together, in peace, in Rome, in Italy, in Europe and throughout the world”. Amen.
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