When salvation came from Heaven

2011-12-06 L’Osservatore Romano

Even before the collapse of Fascism the Camaldolese monastery of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome, heir to a 1,500-year-old cultural tradition, was distinguished by an exemplary act of charity, becoming an important reference point for all The roman church of St Gregorio al Celiothose in serious danger of death because of the atrocious persecutions being perpetrated by the Nazi-Fascists. It suffices to leaf through the pages of this ancient monastery's chronicles of that time to see the self-denial of the Camaldolese monks with one's own eyes. They did not hesitate a second to throw open the convent doors to welcome the multitudes of needy people in search of a safe haven, including Jews, persecuted politicians, and, after Mussolini's capitulation, even a few trembling, formerly influential, figures of the Fascist regime.

“Badoglio had called for resistance”, the chronicler of the monastery wrote in October 1943 with due attention to the details, “but for various reasons this did not happen and the army disintegrated. The army fled, it sought refuge, a shelter in order to escape the German military, awaiting the day on which the homeland could be reborn. It was then that the friendly doors  of our religious institutes were knocked at and opened. Even the cloisters of sisters and nuns were opened exceptionally for this act of charity. In those months the Church, as always,  was able to write pages of ever fresh charity and brotherhood.

Jews –  who were being sought to be locked up in those death camps known as concentration camps and who were divested of all their possessions –  asked to be hidden, as did politicians who did not wish to collaborate with the reborn Republican Fascism;  men who had escaped from  the prisons and jails that had been opened for them as political offenders on 26 July; officers who were loath to belong to an army that was betraying national and popular principles; soldiers who sought refuge to avoid being deported to distant places; soldiers of the Anglo-American forces, prisoners of war who had managed to flee in the moment of confusion, and there were even a few Austrian and Polish soldiers who belonged to the German army”.

“They asked our monastery and other institutes for asylum”, the chronicler continued. “It is impossible to take them all in, we are doing are best, sending them on to other centres that offer shelter. Unexpectedly, a new number of white monks has suddenly appeared within our hospitable walls: H.E. Count Zoppi, Minister Plenipotentiary of Italy at Vichy, the major veteran Ugo Lomenzi, Lieutenant Giacomo Giuffré, the soldier, Giacomo Del Grande, the carabiniere Emilio Nobili, Raffaele Sardielli, Eugenio Weil, a Czechoslovak Jew who had escaped from a concentration camp [located in the small outlying district of Granica Castelnuovo di Farfa], on 29 September, Alessandro Piazza, of Jewish origin but baptized. Another eight people have been guaranteed a place with us, waiting for the opportune moment which fortunately is not arriving. Some of  these new monks have left their wives and children far away.... Father Procurator [Fr Bernardo Ignesti] in his apostolic zeal is looking for everything and seeking to order everything for their good; there is a timetable for religion lessons which are imparted every day by Father Procurator himself and in which the guests very willingly take part. One of the most diligent and attentive is the young Jew, who takes part with the others in the common meal, in the sung office, in evening prayer and in the ordinary common life of the community”.

Giovanni Preziosi