Pius XII pulls a wounded Rome close to him

2013-07-19 L’Osservatore Romano

On 19 July 1943, the United States Air Force bombed Rome: 9,125 bombs fell from 690 airplanes with 930.30 metric tons of explosives, resulting in 1800 deaths. Egidio Picucci recalled that Monday, 70 years ago. "The scene facing the people when the explosions stopped, when the rumble of the airplanes, which in the waves that followed disrupted everything, began to muffle, aroused general disbelief. The city walls seemed like ragged backdrops of a stage carried away by the wind. The morale of the people was at rock bottom. No one expected an attack of that kind and everyone roamed, lost and silent, around the dusty streets filled with rubble. Rome, the Eternal City, was no more. In order to provide relief to the people's distress, the providential news came in that the Pope was to visit San Lorenzo in the afternoon around 5:30 p.m. At that time people ran to the basilica, in front of which the people encircled him, speaking more with their eyes and tears than with their words. Pius XII was visibly moved and opened his arms as if to pull everyone closer to him and not let them go".

L'Osservatore Romano recalled this tragic event and the two visits the Pope made to the wounded city following the two bombings. The second bombing took place on 13 August. "In a strictly private setting, without any escort (...) accompanied only by Mons. Giovanni Battista Montini, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, the Pontiff at 5:20 pm, after having received the first news on the extent of the disaster, left the Vatican to go as soon as possible bringing relief in person to the victims. Faced with many sad sights of destruction the Holy Father stopped the car for a long time and asked for news of the victims and the scope of the damage. His extremely pale face showed his inner pain. (...) With difficulty, in front of the ruined pronaos of the Temple, His Holiness was able to climb down while a wave of excitement erupted from everyone's heart. Defying the impassable terrain, (...) he kneeled (...) inviting everyone to the Christian prayer for the victims".

The bombs also caused incalculable damage to the historical-religious patrimony of the city, especially damaging the cemetary of Verano (even striking the tomb of Pope Pacelli's family) and the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The basilica was subsequently rebuilt, beginning in 1946. The work was made possible thanks to the work in those difficult years of Giovanni Battista Montini, Richard Krautheimer and Fr Antonio Ferrua.