Msgr. Lope Gallo continues his series on the eight priests who forged his priesthood.
This week, Pope Pius XI (1922-1939).
Pius XI was elected Pope in February 1922 at a time
when severe restrictions were being imposed on the Catholic Church in Mexico by
the country’s civil constitution. There could be no criticism against government,
only Mexicans could be clergymen, foreign priests were exiled, and the Church
was banned from owning land.
The situation became worse in 1923 when the apostolic delegate, the papal nuncio, was expelled as persona non grata.
Mexican president Plutarco Elias Calles (1924-1928) launched a wave of persecution that sparked a popular uprising with the shout “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King”), earning them the name Cristeros. My dad and grandfather were Cristero militants.
The Calles regime and his successors had plunged the Church into very difficult times. Churches, seminaries, and convents were closed, bishops were expatriated – many to Rome and others to the U.S. – and thousands of priests were murdered.
I was baptized on a boat navigating the Rio Verde by a priest in disguise.
I was born in 1927, the sixth of twelve siblings. It seems I was baptized on a boat navigating the Rio Verde (the Green River) by a priest in disguise.
The persecution prompted Pius XI to stand firm against the persecutors. He issued the encyclicals Iniquis Afflictisque (1926) and Accerba Animi (1932), and he showed his union with the cause of the Cristeros in many ways, one of which was the institution of the feast of Christ the King.
I was about 4 years old when a black diplomatic limousine with the Swiss flag drew up outside our home. The driver came to our door with a huge envelope for Senora Maria Dolores Gallo de Lopez. “That’s our mom,” we replied, surprised. Mom signed for it and took it. I learned later that because the government had shut down the nunciature of the Holy See, the Swiss embassy was the train d’union between the Vatican and Mexico.
Excitedly, we asked our mom to open the letter but she said that it would have to wait till dad came home. I didn’t understand his explanation that because there were no priests, mom was appointed by the Pope to bring communion to the wounded in hospitals and on the battlefield.
Those were awful times in my country. There was bloodshed everywhere, especially in Guadalajara. I saw three young priests hanged from telephone poles. My mom told me we needed priests, and I replied: “I will be a “padrecito.” In 1937, at the age of 10, I entered a clandestine seminary with seven seminarians.
A very courageous old priest from Spain taught us Latin and religion. One morning he woke us up early and said that Pope Pius XI was dead. It was the 10th of February, 1939. What a shock! My mom, who had a large picture of him – Achille Ratti – grieved for him. He was the first of eight Popes I was to serve.
Achille Ratti was Archbishop of Milan and was elected Pope in 1922. His encyclicals were directed to the restoration of all things in Christ. Casti Connubii (1930), the most theological explanation of the sanctity of married life, condemned contraception and sought to resort a proper respect for married life. Perhaps the best known of his pontifical letters was Quadragesimo Anno (1931), which concerned social problems. The most important political event of his reign was the Lateran Treaty (1929).
The last years of Pius XI were overshadowed by the development of events in Europe.
The last years of Pius XI were overshadowed by the development of events in Europe, especially the persecution of the Church by the three most horrendous systems of Nazism, Communism, and Fascism, of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.
Pius XI’s 17-year pontificate was devoted to achieving the great task of peace and the re-ordering of the Church. After the collapse of the old systems in World War I, he strove for the Pax Cristiana in a world that had not re-established genuine peace. In the age of disappearing monarchies, he referred the nations – war-weary and yet filled with unrest – to the kingdom of Christ. For him, the highest goal was the unification of humanity – a humanity seeking true peace and community – under the royal sceptre of Christ.
Another praiseworthy activity of this Pope was to bring to the altar many precious men and women who were declared saints through beatification and canonization. To name a few: St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John Vianney, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Bosco, and St. Peter Canisius.
Pius XI several times condemned anti-Semitism in the sharpest manner: “Anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually, we are all Semites.” He also wrote the well-known encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern), wishing to expand in that document the condemnation of racism.
Achille Ratti appears in history as one of the most significant and most able of the Popes of modern times. He died shortly before the outbreak of World War II and was interred in the grotto below St. Peter’s Basilica.