Pope Pius XII – Ora Pro Nobis

pope pius xii

This article from The Washington Daily News reported the details of the death of Pope Pius XII and reflected on the highlights of his 19-year reign as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. His last words were, “Pray,” he said. “Pray that this regrettable situation for the church may end.”

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Oct. 9, 1958  (UPI) –The church bells of Rome signaled today the start of nine days of official mourning for Pope Pius XII who died peacefully this morning in his summer palace at the age of 82.

Signs of mourning were donned throughout the Catholic world. Messages of condolences poured in from political and religious leaders of all denominations, for the late Pope was not only the spiritual and temporal head of Roman Catholicism but a diplomat and statesman of universal standing.

The body of the late Pope Pius XII, austere and kindly of face even in death, still lay in the room where he died at 3:52 a.m. (10:52 p.m. EDT) yesterday after a second stroke and heart and lung complications.

Later in the day, it was to be moved from the plain bedchamber on the second floor of the papal summer palace into the hall of the Swiss Guards. There Pius XII will lie in state until 2 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) tomorrow when the body will be transported to Rome.

Vatican embalmers prepared the Pope’s body for the nine days of solemn ceremony before it is laid to rest in the grottoes of St. Peter’s Basilica close to the tomb of the first pope, St. Peter.

In the room where the Pope died, his body lay on a shiny brass bed. It was dressed in flowing white robes, topped by the ermine-lined scarlet “mozzetta” or cape. The top of the head was covered by a scarlet camauro, also trimmed with white ermine, which fitted closely around the ears and left only the face exposed.

In the Pope’s hands, clasped on his breast, were the small crucifix and the rosary he held when he died.

Only the communists showed no regrets. He had fought them bitterly, and for hours Moscow Radio did not even mention his death. During the final hours of his illness Russia jammed news bulletins on his condition.

In Rome where the solemn ceremonies will be held bells tolled in pre-dawn darkness and the altars of the city’s many churches were draped in purple, the sign of mourning. Italy declared three days of mourning and closed schools and places of entertainment.

The Pope had been unwell for a week and his final illness came at 8:30 a.m. Monday when he suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed and weak. He received the last rites of the church but appeared to be making a recovery.

Then yesterday he was felled by a second stroke and the Vatican announced to the world there was little hope for his recovery. In mid-afternoon the doctors reported a grave cardio-pulmonary collapse. At 3 p.m. doctors abandoned hope. Just before sundown, pneumonia set in. Doctors brought in oxygen and blood plasma.

The end followed swiftly. Prof. Antonio Gasbarrini, one of the four doctors, signaled that death was near. All gathered at the bed–the family and the high papal officers. They recited prayers for the dying. There was a choked, rasping sound from the patient.

Sister Pasquilina, the faithful housekeeper for more than two decades, gently wiped the unconscious Pope’s lips with water during the recital of the prayers.

At one point she took the crucifix, which had been resting on the Pope’s chest and put it near his mouth.

At 3:52 a.m. Prof. Gasbarrini put a stethoscope to the Pontiff’s chest, felt the pulse, turned and said: “E morto”–he is dead.

Msgr. Tardini repeated the words: “E morto.” And then in a break from tradition intoned the inspiring “Magnificat”:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord.

“My spirit doth rejoice in Him…”

All present slowly filed past the Pope’s deathbed – the noble guards, the Swiss guards and gendarmes on duty.

Msgr. Angelo Dell-Acqua, Vatican assistant Pro-Secretary of State, moved into the adjoining chapel and recited the first funeral Mass.

The Pope, a statesman and diplomat, was a man of many firsts. He was the first to use radio and television; the first to use a typewriter; the first to use a plane–he was known as the “Flying Cardinal” when he visited the United States 22 years ago.

His formal title was:

“Bishop of Rome

“Vicar of Christ.

“Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of The State of Vatican City.”

To Catholics he was the dauntless champion of mankind’s spiritual glory. To non-Catholics he was a statesman, a world leader who sought to prevent World War II through personal intervention, a man who fought against communism.

His death ended one of the most notable pontificates in the 19 centuries of the church. He was looked upon as a saint, and his early canonization was regarded as certain.

The church has reported that on the morning of Dec. 2, 1954, while suffering a serious illness, he saw “the sweet person of Jesus Christ at his bedside” while he was reciting the prayer, “Anima Christi.” Another apparent miracle attributed to him was the vision of the revolving suns, which appeared to him in the Vatican gardens during the 1950 holy year–a vision said to be similar to the one of Fatima.

The Pope’s last words before lapsing into unconsciousness showed that the church was foremost in his mind.

“Pray,” he said. “Pray that this regrettable situation for the church may end.”

Pope Pius XII was an implacable foe of communism, and the last half of his reign was devoted to a relentless struggle against its “cruel and bloody irony.”

But he  served through an era that knew no peace, when the bloody World War II was succeeded by the “cold war,” the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and the persecution of Christianity by the communists.

Though saddened by this struggle, the Pope remained convinced of the eventual victory of good over evil.

Extract from: The Washington Daily News, Thursday, October 9, 1958

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