By Edward Pentin
ROME, JUNE 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- She may be 87, but Sister Margherita Marchione isn't even close to retiring.
The indomitable sister of the Religious Teachers Filippini, and ardent defender of Pius XII, has just published a new book on the wartime Pontiff which she launched in Rome last month. Called "Pope Pius XII -- An Anthology on the 70th Anniversary of Coronation," the work is just one of over 60 she has written. Most of them are passionate defenses of Pius against accusations he did too little to save Jews in World War II.
Meeting Sr. Margherita is always a pleasure. A loveable, tiny nun whose broad New Jersey accent matches her tough resilience in clearing Pius's name, she ardently defends Pope Pacelli's holiness and innocence at every opportunity. And her historical research is supported by a growing number of prominent figures, including the highly reputed Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert and -- increasingly -- rabbis and ordinary Jews.
She began campaigning to clear Pius XII's name after hearing of the many Jews who were saved through hiding in the convent of her Order in Rome. She also has especially fond memories of meeting the wartime Pope in 1957. "Just that one time I met him, I can still visualize him," she recalls. "Just thinking about him, I can hear his voice -- there was something about him that was so saintly."
But this isn't mere sentiment: She backs up these claims with hard facts. He was not silent, she says, as his condemnations of Nazism were regularly reported in L'Osservatore Romano and on Vatican Radio; she stresses that whatever the bishops or apostolic delegations did in Europe to save Jews was on the Pope's instructions; moreover, she argues that all the convents, monasteries and the Vatican itself opened their doors to hide Jews because Pius XII had asked them to. "What more could he have done?" she asks.
What Sr. Margherita and many others have been trying to counter is the so-called black legend – a smear campaign masterminded by communists in the Soviet Union after the War to discredit the ardently anti-Communist wartime Pope. He was not silent during the war, says Sr. Margherita and others in his defense, but kept a low profile in order to avoid aggravating the situation of the victims.
Sr. Margherita also is quick to brush away one criticism which often comes up: that other Catholics who lost their lives to save Jews, and who have not yet been beatified, should be elevated to the altars before Pius XII who survived the war. She insists Pius XII did lay down his life -- he risked his own self and was prepared to die (a recent testimony has given credence to rumors that the Nazis secretly planned to kill or kidnap Pius in 1943). "Can you picture the kind of fear he experienced day in and day out?" she says. "What would happen to him and the Catholic Church, the Vatican? He had a terrible responsibility."
But according to the Congregation for Saints' Causes, no convincing miracle attributed to Pius XII (necessary for beatification) has yet to been found, which is why Sr. Margherita is keen to press Catholics to pray for one. She gave me a 1958 prayer card in the hope that ZENIT readers will do their part. It reads:
"O Jesus, Eternal Pontiff, you deigned to elevate to the supreme dignity your Vicar here on earth, your faithful servant Pius XII and to him you gave the grace of being an intrepid defender of the faith and a courageous asserter of justice and of peace, a devoted glorifier of your Holy Mother and a luminous model of charity and of all the virtues. Deem worthy now, in view of his merits, to grant us the grace that we ask of you. We are certain of his efficacious intercession and we hope to see him one day glorified on your altars Amen."
Sr. Margherita -- nicknamed the "Fighting Nun" -- remains ever hopeful that she will see Pius XII beatified in her lifetime. And it's a hope coupled with characteristic good humor. In a recent telephone call to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, she told him: "I'll be back in the fall for the beatification."
"Pope Pius XII -- An Anthology on the 70th Anniversary of Coronation" is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana as a bilingual edition in Italian and English. For more information, visit www.sistermargherita.com/articles.htm.
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Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.