1943: Light the Candles

In the House of Commons in the last week, of January, a Labour member for North-West Camberwell, Charles Ammon, spoke in favor of bombing Rome. He was a lifelong Socialist and Methodist lay preacher who would be raised to the peerage the following year as 1st Baron Ammon of Camberwell and then serve as chief whip in the House of Lords. His insistence that this be an essential part of the Allied offensive was supported by Sir Archibald Southby, a Conservative for Epsom, and also by Eleanor Rathbone, an independent member for the Combined English Universities.

In his first speech, Ammon argued for bombing Rome from points of military strategy. Having been unsatisfied with the ambiguous replies of the foreign secretary, he appealed again by asking why the Vatican had not been more outspoken in condemning Nazi atrocities. The foreign secretary spoke of the numerous times the Vatican had done so. The Tablet commented that the questioners “afforded one more example of the anxiety of the ordinary Englishman, whenever he feels strongly about a matter, to have the Pope on his side — and anxiety matched only by his rage when a Papal pronouncement is made from which he happens to differ.”

The Vatican continued to broadcast the New Year message of Archbishop Josef Frings of Cologne, which contained among its many grievances against the German government a protest more angry than plaintive: “The clergy are no longer allowed to give religious instruction in the elementary schools, and religious instruction has been reduced to a minimum, if not cut altogether.” Archbishop Frings announced the establishment of “Hours of Spiritual Instruction” (Seelsorgestunden) twice weekly for all Catholic schoolchildren in defiance of the government. This would accommodate children wherever they might be, as many were being evacuated from one district to another. “It is the parents’ duty to see that the children learn the truth, the more so since everything is done on the other side to imbue our children with an un-Christian spirit and to prejudice them against the Church of Christ.”

The Vatican Polyglot Press produced in book form the articles of Professor Guido Gonella, an editor of the Osservatore Romano, on The Essential Conditions of International Order. This exercised the easily outraged Critica Fascista, which complained that once again the Church was showing herself to be “obsolete” and “medieval” and was “thinking of a return to the days of Dante.” Gonella, fumed the Fascist journal, had wrongly confused Hegel’s State-worship with the Fascist state. “We should like it expressly stated that what the Church has to say is of a religious nature: the ambiguous term ‘morality’ should not be used, for it can hide conceptions of other days, when the State had to attend only to material interests, and everything else was a matter for the Church.”

Giving special publicity to an item from the Neue Zurcher Zeitung of December 29, 1942, which said that in the previous autumn Pope Pius XII had discussed “social questions” with President Roosevelt’s personal representative to the Holy See, the Vatican Radio added with flamboyant paralipsis: “We are not in a position to confirm these statements by the Swiss paper, as up to the present complete silence has been maintained by both sides on the discussions.”


The archbishop of Milan, Alfredo Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, sent to all his parishes a pastoral letter in response to Fascist propaganda against the Holy See. “Pius XII, remaining absolutely outside and above — much above — all the interests that inspire the various armies, took to himself the part of a common father to sorrowing humanity.” Cardinal Schuster had been impressed by Mussolini’s role in the Lateran Treaty and was the first bishop to take an oath of loyalty to the Italian state in 1929, in the presence of King Victor Emmanuel III, according to the protocols of the pact. This was a few weeks before he was created a cardinal. Cardinal Schuster enthusiastically endorsed the Ethiopian campaign in 1935, declaiming that it would provide a vast area for missions promoting “the Catholic faith and Roman civilization.” After the deaths of 750,000 native Abyssinians, sometimes by chemical warfare, his sense of Mussolini changed. On April 25, 1945, he would invite the Duce to the episcopal palace in Milan and, over a glass of wine, instruct him in the need for humility and the timeliness for being reconciled with God. Mussolini finished his wine and left; three days later, he was assassinated.

On March 8, 1945, Allen Dulles, as head of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, would meet in Lucerne with Obergruppenführer and general of the Waffen-SS Karl Wolff, who was then Military Plenipotentiary for Italy, to work out a secret surrender of German troops in Italy. Under interrogation as a prisoner in May 1945, Wolff testified that Cardinal Schuster had been consulted in the surrender plans and had urged that Mussolini not be included. At Nuremburg, Wolff was spared execution because of his cooperation, and he died in 1984. The future Pope John XXIII sang Cardinal Schuster’s Requiem Mass in 1954, and three years later the future Pope Paul VI opened the diocesan process for his canonization. In 1996, Pope John Paul II beatified Cardinal Schuster, whose remains were incorrupt when exhumed in 1985.

At the start of 1943, there were only about 4,000 Catholics in Sweden. Episcopal statements often took the form of public correspondence with the Lutheran bishops. The vicar apostolic, Msgr. Johannes Muller, had ordered that the Fourth Sunday of Advent be kept by Catholics as a day of prayer for “all those who are unjustly persecuted, oppressed and tortured, and the Jews in particular.” He then had published a letter to the Lutheran Archbishop Erling Eidem: “It fills our hearts with acute pain and horror to know that all over Europe people are persecuted, tortured, killed or mercilessly driven from home and country merely because they belong to a certain race or have defended the freedom of their country and ancient rights inherited from their fathers.”

In this January of 1943 in Norway, where the Catholic population was no more than 3,000, according to reports sent to the Stockholm Dagens Nyheter, the Gestapo arrested two parish priests, the Taxt brothers, of Oslo and Beren. A third, Father van der Vlugt of Hamar, was sent to Germany and not heard from again. On January 17, the Nazi newspaper in Denmark, Kritisk Ugerevue, attacked Bishop Johannes Theodor Suhr and charged that it was a policy to refuse a Requiem Mass for any Dane who had joined the German forces. Moreover, the Catholic Church in Denmark “prays for Hitler’s death and Germany’s destruction.”


In the last week of January, the Allies captured Tripoli and the first all-American air raid was launched on Germany, with 50 bombers. The Japanese had abandoned the Papua campaign, while continuing to fight in western Guadalcanal, though on January 30 they completely evacuated, undetected by the Americans. Near Guadalcanal, Americans were defeated by the Japanese in the naval battle of Rennel Island. The United States XIV Corps arrived in the Pacific Theater; while back in Europe, on January 31, the newly minted Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus and more than 90,000 German troops of the German 6th Army surrendered to the Soviets at Stalingrad. Then began a fast march to Rostov and the Kerch Peninsula to rescue the Armies of the Caucasus. Hitler’s own amateurish hand, disdaining advice, had brought havoc before Moscow in 1941 and on the Volga in 1942. Anxiety among his top commanders was increasing with a foreboding made worse by its silence.

In England, where dark austerity was beginning to lighten a little, Mary G. Chadwick published a poem, “For Our Lady in War-Time,” to mark the approaching liturgical feast of February 2. She wrote it unaware that, on the feast, the German 6th Army would officially surrender at Stalingrad. For the first time in the war, the Germans publicly acknowledged a defeat and ordered three days of mourning.

Light the candles at dawn of day;
Light eternal in flames that pass
Burn in the Church and burn in the choir,
Set the altar for Candle-Mass.

Here is incense grey as the dawn,
Holy water and holy fire,
Bless the candles and hold them up . . .
Light of the World and the World’s Desire!

Carry them home as treasure trove,
The Church has blessed and the Church has prayed,
Danger of body and hurt of soul
By her holy praying be swift delayed.

Crash of bombs and roar of the guns,
Pain and terror and death upstart,
Like a frightened child in a world of ill
Hide your face on our Lady’s heart!

Light the candles when night is black,
Light eternal in flames that pass,
Pure gold fire upon purest wax —
Light the candles of Candlemas.

Fr. George W. Rutler


Fr. George W. Rutler is pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He is the author of many books including Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press) and Hints of Heaven (Sophia Institute Press). His latest books are He Spoke To Us (Ignatius, 2016) and The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017).

  • Jake Frost

    Thank you Reverend Rutler! This is a pretty amazing article — how did you find all this? And I love your EWTN talks. They are really amazing. Bless you!

  • Steve T.

    “[Charles Ammon] appealed again by asking why the Vatican had not been more outspoken in condemning Nazi atrocities. The foreign secretary spoke of the numerous times the Vatican had done so.”

    Father, where would this be available? More contemporary evidence for Pope Pius’s efforts!

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    I am afraid that there is something confusing in para 7 of this great article. It SStates that Wollf testifed that “Schuster had been consulted in the surrender plans and had urged that Mussolini be excldued.” Does this mean that the Cardinal wanted to deny Mussolini the opportunity to surrender? Or does it mean that he wanted to provide the dictator an opportunity for escape? Either interpretation is possilbe, and latter does not make the Cardinal look good. Also, doesn’t anyone in the Church think that canonizng a man who gave his assent to a clearly unjust war, the Invasion of Ethiopa, could be a source of scandal that will only lend more credibility to the Church’s enemies’ claim that She always sides with the Fascists?

  • Raphael

    Mr. Coleman, was the invasion of Ethiopia really an unjust war? Can there ever be an unjust war when attacking barbarians?

  • David Ambuul

    It is amazing how some trends are visibly similar between Nazi Germany and present day United States of America. Our elites are almost all for the murder of unborn children, elites in media and government and schools. And the welfare state Democrats started and establishment Republicans now promote is similar to Nazi Germany’s. To speak against it is verboten because one is not charitable if he speaks against it, he doesn’t love the poor of our state. I think this is a lie and our bishops have, by and large, backed and promoted this lie (along with many catholics in the pews). The welfare state allows people to live (for generations) without working. This goes against the book of Genesis. Man (male and female) are meant to work in some capacity, as moms or pilots or janitors etc. St. Paul says if one doesn’t work, don’t let him eat. But the welfare state we now live in has created a generational inability to work. I’ve met strong men whose dads, grandfathers and great-grandfathers never worked. But they ate, they watched tv too much and they bought and sold drugs. The United States Government, enabled by some of our bishops and the Federal Reserve bank’s printing of fiat money, have created a Culture of Incompetance. It is wrong. I have a neighbor who has permanent brain trauma/damage from a motorcycle accident. I have no problem with him permanently getting state money and me having to work (my share) to pay for this. But why do some of our bishops delegate citizens to de facto slavery (welfare money) when those citizens are capable of working? Why do they promote the New Slavery? I don’t get it. It goes against the Bible’s teachings that those who can work must work. And now the welfare state has become so big, the incompetance so widespread, that many moms who would prefer to be at home must be out working because taxation has gotten so out of hand that many husbands can’t make ends meat on their job. The bishops must take the lead in ending this.

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    Would it be possible for Fr. Rutler to answer the question that I rasied above concerning what I perceive to be an ambiguity in para 7 of this wonderful artcile? I may be an indiot, just unable to grasp what to others is very clear. Why did Cardinal Schuster want Mussolini exluded form the surrender plan? That matter is actually very important in evaluating what Cardinal Schuster really believed.

  • David Ambuul

    Tom, the surrender being planned was a secret surrender of German troops in Italy. The cardinal probably urged that Mussolini be kept out because it could jeopardize the surrender through any bad intent on Mussolini’s part or, possibly, Mussolini’s lack of discretion. After all, Mussolini was in bed with the Nazi’s and would probably not profit (i’m speaking in human terms, of course) if those Nazi’s were to surrender. If someone else interpreted it differently, i’d be interested to hear.

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    David, thank you for your explanation. It is certainly as plausibel as any I could imagine. Thanks also for your remarks above conerning the similarity between the the rules of Fascism/Noazim and our current state of affairs. The current regime clearly regards the Catholic Church as its enemy, and has appointed many nominal Catholics to high positions with the clear message that the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic. Sadly, many Catholics, to inlcude members of the clergy, were complicit in electing this regime on the preposterous premis that its socialist policies would actually reduce abortions and carry out the corporal works of mercy. Some of these supporters of the regime might have been innocently duped, but others knew exactly what they were doing and advising others to do. The guidance given from Rome on Communion for pro-aborts has been mostly ignroed on the grounds that denying Communion makes the Sacrament a political tool, whereas is it actually the pro-aborts who are doing that, trying to trick their constituans into thinking that that they, the pols in question, are good Catholics and that one can support the “non-negotiables” and still be a good Catholic. Indeed, many of us know supporters of the non-negotiables who are active in all ministreis of their parishes, to include CCD. Anyone who dares to bring this contradiction to a pastor’s attention is likely to be told, “Look to your own sins.” Of course we would not be told to look to our own sins if we were to complain about racism or the hoarding of whealth. Let us all hope and pray that the election of Archbishop Dolan will bring about some change

  • Fr. G W Rutler

    In reply to Steven T’s question: parliamentary transcripts are published by Hansard (the name was restored to the title of the annual records in 1943).

    In reply to Mr. Coleman’s question: Cardinal Schuster did indeed want MUussolini excluded from the Lucerne discussions because he assumed Mussolini would inform the Nazis. Schuster had turned against Mussolini since 1938 in opposition to the anti-Jewish laws of the Fascists. In a sermon on Nov 13 he preached: “A kind of heresy has emerged abroad and is infiltrating more or less everywhere, which not only attacks the supernatural foundations of the Catholic Church, but…denies humanity any other spiritual value, and thus constitutes an international danger no less serious than that of Bolshevism itself. It is what is called racism.” The fascists strongly objected to Schuster’s words but he was supported by Pius XI who sent a message: “The Holy Father exhorts the cardinal of Milan to uphold Catholic doctrine courageously, because this point cannot be ceded…” Many non-Fascists admired the early Mussolini and later turned against him, including Pius XI. Cardinal Vanutelli said Mussolini “had been chosen to save the nation and restore her fortune.” Mussolini allied with the Nazis only after Pius XI declined to publicly excommunicate Hitler, which MUssolini had wanted in order to weaken Hitler’s influence in Austria. Franklin Roosevelt called Mussolini “that admirable Italian gentleman” and later based some of his National Recovery Administration on some of Mussolini’s structures. Churchill thought Mussolini was a “Roman genius..the greatest lawgiver among men.” In 1927 he wrote: “If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been whole-heartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetite and passions of Leninism.” GK Chesterton’s book “The Resurrection of Rome” admires Mussolini’s achievement. Chesterton met personally with Pius I and Mussolini and found Mussolini the more impressive of the two. Curiously, GKC and the Duce discussed in French the revision of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. In a different category, saints themsevles have made big mistakes in politics and even in private revelations. Their sanctity is based on heroic virtue and the state of their souls at death.

  • Thomas C. Coleman, Jr.

    Deear Fr. Rutler, Thank you very much for you prompt and extremely informative reply. I am very grateful for both the information on the background of Cardinal Schuster’s desire to exclude Mussolini from the surrender discussion, and even more so for the information conncering the evolution of the Cardinal’s attitude toward the dictator. Ghandi, as you know, was also an admirer. There are many lessons for all of us in your reflections on WWII. I fear that many Catholics support leaders who promise secular solutions to problems that arise from moral failings in exchange for the creation of a secualr state that has aa a goal the separation of man from God. We must all learn from the experiences of Cardinal Schuster, Chesterton, and others. If such men of great intelligence could be fooled, what about us ordinary folks? Thank you again, Father. (Ny wife and I love your lectures on EWTN.)