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); The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing, 2017); and Calm in Chaos (Ignatius, 2018).

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