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The Charity of Pope Pius XII | Eugenio Zolli | From Before the Dawn: Autobiographical Reflections by Eugenio Zolli, Former Chief Rabbi of Rome

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"Did you become a convert out of gratitude toward the Pope, who did so much for the Jews of Italy during the Nazi persecution?" This question was addressed to me, and still is, by reporters. In many interviews (inaccurate or invented), they describe me as answering in the affirmative. Why? I suppose to please readers by providing them with a precise and pleasing explanation. In reality, my reply has always been in the negative, but this ought not to be interpreted as a lack of gratitude, and in fact in another book of mine [1] I have emphasized the great charity of the Holy Father and my admiration for him and his work.

As from the Cross of Christ, so from the Chair of Peter, proceed spiritual rays that aim at reaching and illuminating and doing good to all without distinction. One might say of the reign of Plus XII that he is inspired by Isaiah's words: Peace is harmony, peace is salvation, to those near, to those afar off. I want to heal them all.

The Catholic Church loves all souls. She suffers with all and for all; she awaits her children on the sacred threshold of Peter with love, and her children are all men. Wisdom, in the Proverbs of Solomon, invites all to her table. The Church, through her visible Head, offers her love and truth and freedom to all. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (Jn 8:32).

Jesus Christ spoke of Himself as the "door"; and, again, He said: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" (Rev 2:20). The Vicar of Christ wants all men to be within the sphere of human and divine charity. Only charity makes men free. At the very hour in which the terrible sacrificial rite of blood was initiated, the destruction en masse in the name of race, of nation, of the state, concentrating the three into one factor: "blood"--precisely then, in the midst of so many fanatics, the great Pontiff, unique, serene and wise, exclaims: "But the legitimate and just love toward one's own country must not close the eyes to the universality of Christian charity, which also considers others and their prosperity in the pacifying light of love!"

There is no place of sorrow where the spirit of love of Plus XII has not reached. Volumes could be written on the multiform works of succour of Plus XII. The Catholic priesthood throughout the whole world, religious men and women and the Catholic laity, stand behind the great Pontiff Who could ever tell what has been done? The rule of severe enclosure falls, every thing and all things are at the service of charity. As the sufferings grow, so grows the light from the heart of Christ, and from His Vicar; more vigilant and ready for sacrifice and martyrdom are his sons and daughters in Christ. Young Levites and white-haired priests, religious of all orders, in all lands, dedicated Sisters, all in quest of good works and ready for sacrifice. There are no barriers, no distinctions. All sufferers are children of God in the eyes of the Church, children in Christ, for them and with them all suffer and die. No hero in history has commanded such an army; none is more militant, more fought against, none more heroic than that conducted by Plus XII in the name of Christian charity.

An old priest who could do nothing further gathered around him in the church the women and children of the village (the men had been slaughtered outside the village) so that they might die together in the presence of the crucifix. His dead body is thrown upon the altar, where once he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice, and there he lies, himself sacrificed. An army of priests works in cities and small towns to provide bread for the persecuted and passports for the fugitives. Sisters go into unheated canteens to give hospitality to women refugees. Orphans of all nations and religions are gathered together and cared for. No economic sacrifice is considered too great to help the innocent to flee to foreign lands from those who seek their death. A religious, a most learned man, works incessantly to save Jews, and himself dies a martyr. Sisters endure hunger to feed the refugees. Superiors go out in the night to meet strange soldiers who demand victims. They manage, at the risk of their lives, to convey the impression that they have none--they, who have several in their care.

The attic of one of the great churches in the center of Rome is divided into many sections, each bearing the name of the saint in whose honor the altar below is dedicated. The refugees are divided for the distribution of food into groups according to the names of these saints. Must not the soul of the saint rejoice in such a tribute? Schools, administrative offices, churches, convents all have their guests.

Pope Plus XII is followed by all with the fervor of that charity that fears not death. No one asks for anything except to follow in the footsteps of the Master under the guidance of Plus XII.

At the first hour of his pontificate Plus XII said:
Exactly in times like these, he who remains firm in his faith and strong in his heart, knows that Christ the King is never so near as in trial, which is the hour of fidelity. With a heart broken by the suffering of so many of her children, but with the courage and firmness that come from faith in the Lord's promises, the Spouse of Christ [the Church], advances toward the approaching storm. She knows that the truth she announces, the charity she teaches, and its practice will be the unique counsellors and collaborators of men of good will in the reconstruction of a new world, injustice and love, after humanity, weary of running in the way of error, will have tasted the bitter fruit of hatred and of violence.
Many are the books by statisticians, generals, journalists, and many are the memoirs of individuals concerning this great war. The archives hold quantities of material for future historians. But who, outside of God in heaven, has gathered into his heart the sorrows and the groans of all the injured? Like a watchful sentinel before the sacred inheritance of human pain stands the angelic Pastor, Pius XII. He has seen the abyss of misfortune toward which mankind is advancing. He has measured and foretold the greatness of the tragedy. He has made himself the herald of the serene voice of justice and the defender of true peace. He took into his heart the pain of all the sufferers. He bent over the sorrow of all, and today he stands erect before the whole world saying, "The way you chose was not the just way. The true way is that which leads from the Gospel to Jesus. The good way is marked by a simple and clear word: from the Gospel, with Christ, toward the Kingdom of God."

I did not hesitate to give a negative answer to the question whether I was converted in gratitude to Pius XII for his numberless acts of charity. Nevertheless, I do feel the duty of rendering homage and of affirming that the charity of the Gospel was the light that showed the way to my old and weary heart. It is the charity that so often shines in the history of the Church and that radiated fully in the actions of the reigning Pontiff.


[1] Antisemitismo (Rome: A.V.E., 1945), pp. 244ff.

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Before The Dawn: Autobiographical Reflections by Eugenio Zolli, Former Chief Rabbi of Rome

By Eugenio Zolli

This is the remarkable and inspiring story of how the famous and revered Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, became a Christian and entered the Catholic Church after World War II. Zolli was a world renowned Jewish leader and Scripture and Talmudic scholar, and an authority on Semitic philology.

This classic work outlines the spiritual journey of Rabbi Zolli, through prayer, Scripture meditation and lived experience, from devout Judaism to Catholicism, and it stands as a wonderful testament to the spirit of man which is always restless until it rests fully in Christ Jesus. He did not abandon his Jewish heritage, but says he discovered the fullness of what God offered in Jesus and His Church. Zolli took the Christian name of Eugenio to honor Pope Pius XII (Eugenio was his baptismal name) for all he did to save Jews during World War II.

The highlights of his spiritual journey are covered in this book along with some marvelous insights by Rabbi Zolli on Judaism, mysticism, the Law, and the Gospel. Zolli speaks of his journey not as a betrayal of the Synagogue but as a completion and fulfillment, describing himself as becoming a "completed Jew" by recognizing Jesus Christ ("Rabbi Yeshua") as the Messiah and joining His Church. Zolli offers unique insights on the continuity between the Synagogue and the Catholic Church and many interesting insights into the Scriptures—including the New Testament—from an Orthodox Jewish perspective.

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