1942: Life Goes On

If our present existence were not sufficient proof, the irrefutable platitude that life goes on was evident in the summer months of 1942 in England when, coincident with the bombings and lengthening list of war casualties and stricter food rationing, Aloysius Roche published a preview of his study of the Egyptian Desert Fathers, and T. S. Eliot lectured the Classical Association on “The Classics and the Man of Letters.” The Lady Abbess of Oulton, the Rt. Rev. Dame Gertrude Beech, marked her golden jubilee in religion, and five churches designed by Pugin celebrated their centenaries. At the same time, government censors revealed the destruction by enemy action of Pugin’s church at Handworth, Birmingham, and damage to St. Chad’s Cathedral and the Oratory in Edgbaston. The Birmingham Blitz, begun two years before, would end on St. George’s day in 1943. On the Feast of the Assumption, Archbishop Peter Amigo carried the Blessed Sacrament in procession around the ruins of Southwark Cathedral, where Pugin had been the first person to be married after he had built it.

The protocols of life also continued in Rome, where Pope Pius XII received in audience the Comte de Paris, pretender to the throne of France, who was to be best man at the wedding of the Duke of Bragança, pretender to the throne of Portugal, to the elder sister of Dom Pedro-Gastao de Alcantara d’Orleans-Bragança, pretender to the throne of Brazil. But at the same time real sabers were rattling nearby.
Giuseppi Bottai, the Italian minister for education and editor of the review Critica Fascista, wrote in the opaque rotundity that has not ceased being dear to Italian journalists that Italian Catholics have never followed their bishops blindly, and so they should ignore the Vatican’s “insistent propaganda in favour of the principles of natural law and international justice,” which contradicted “concrete historical reality” and “encouraged the enemies of the Axis and their insidious egalitarian policy.” The Fascists were greatly upset when, in the presence of the pope and 25,000 worshipers, Carlo Cardinal Salotti preached a sermon in which he attacked the logic of the war and desired “a kingdom of love that will be proof against the errors made in the name of race and nation, a kingdom of liberty which will make tyranny impossible, a kingdom of the spirit which will free men from materialism.”
Meanwhile, the pope personally requested Bishop Francesco Borgognini-Duca, the nuncio to Italy, to visit the Chinese internees, including the Franciscan priest Rev. Antonio Tchang, in a concentration camp at Tossica. The bishop instructed 42 Chinese converts and received them into the Church. Earlier, Msgr. Borgognini-Duca visited anther camp whose Jewish prisoners said that the visit gave them “new courage to go on living.” In a letter to the pope, they addressed Pius XII as a “revered personality who has stood up for the rights of all afflicted and powerless people.”
As life went on in Holland, Dr. Anton van Duinkerken, a writer for a Catholic literary magazine for young people, was taken hostage by the Nazis along with the Catholic novelist Dr. Anton Coolen; the leading Catholic intellectual review, De Niuwe Eeuw, kept printing until German soldiers trashed its offices.
In the same weeks of August, the Patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel Cardinal Cerejeira, told the National Council for Catholic Action of Adult Men that Catholics must not oppose democratic ideals “because Christianity was their mother.” Cardinal Cerejeira, who had been a friend of Dr. Salazar at the University of Coimbra, believed that Salazar’s “moderate dictatorship” should be only “a temporary measure,” otherwise “it would be hard to avoid State control of corporations which were planned originally to be free professional and vocational organizations.” A Catholic press service said, “Now that the war has clarified the ultimate issues of freedom or slavery, and the values of the English and American democracies have withstood the ordeal, the Cardinal thinks the moment has come to revive democratic ideals in Portugal.” Almost 90 when he died in 1977, he outlived Salazar by 7 years; and his 48 years in the College of Cardinals were surpassed only by Cardinal Prince Henry Stuart’s 58 year long cardinalate, which began when he was 22.
The archbishops and bishops of occupied France held a conference in those torrid August days to protest against the persecution of the Jews. As the French media censored their appeals to Pétain, they arranged for their message to be passed around the nation from mouth to mouth: “It is in the name of humanity and in the name of Christian principles that we raise our voice to protest in favour of the rights of the human person.” The bishop of Montauban wrote in a Pastoral Letter: “In Paris, Jews by the tens of thousands are being treated in the most barbarous and savage manner. . . . May God console and fortify those who are so abominably persecuted, and give men a true and lasting peace based on justice and charity.”
It was reported in the Jewish Chronicle that “Catholic priests have taken a leading part in hiding hunted Jews and sheltering the children of those who are under arrest or who have been deported to Germany. Laval has now ordered the arrest of all Catholic priests in whose presbyteries hidden Jewish children are found.” As archbishop of Lyons and primate of France, Pierre Marie Cardinal Gerlier threatened to excommunicate anyone who bought property unjustly seized from Jewish families. Hundreds of priests were arrested, including eight Jesuit Fathers and ten Dominicans, on the island of Saint-Marguerite, charged with “Gaulliste activities.” Cardinal Gerlier would live to the age of 85.  In 1981, Yad Vashem gave him posthumously the title “Righteous Among the Nations.”
So as life went on, not all lives went on. In Slovenia, Italian soldiers shot an 87-year old German priest for giving the last sacraments to guerrillas about to be executed. A priest in Kocevje asked, “Is it possible that all these horrors are committed by Catholic Italy to a Catholic people?”


Fr. George W. Rutler is a contributing editor to Crisis and pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. A four-volume anthology of his best spiritual writings, A Year with Fr. Rutler, is available now from the Sophia Institute Press.

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