Pope Benedict XV (1914-22)
Who was Pope Benedict XV?
Pope Benedict XV (Latin: Benedictus XV; 21 November 1854 – 22 January 1922), born Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa, was the head of the Catholic Church from 3 September 1914 to his death in 1922. His pontificate was largely overshadowed by World War I and its political, social and humanitarian consequences in Europe.
Between 1846 and 1903, the Church experienced its two longest pontificates in history up to that point. Together Pius IX and Leo XIII ruled for 57 years. In 1914, the Cardinals chose Della Chiesa at the age of 59, indicating their desire for another long-lasting pontificate at the outbreak of World War I, which he labeled “the suicide of civilized Europe.”
The war and its consequences were the main focus of Benedict. He declared the neutrality of the Holy See and attempted from that perspective to mediate peace in 1916 and 1917. Both sides rejected his initiatives. German Protestants rejected any “Papal Peace” as insulting. French politician Georges Clemenceau regarded the Vatican initiative as anti-French.
Having failed with diplomatic initiatives, the Pope focused on humanitarian efforts to lessen the impacts of the war, such as attending prisoners of war, the exchange of wounded soldiers and food deliveries to needy populations in Europe. After the war, he repaired the difficult relations with France, which re-established relations with the Vatican in 1921. During his pontificate, relations with Italy improved as well, as the Pope now permitted Catholic politicians led by Don Luigi Sturzo to participate in national Italian politics.
In 1917 Benedict promulgated the Code of Canon Law, the creation of which he had prepared with Pietro Gasparri and Eugenio Pacelli during the pontificate of Pius X. The new Code of Canon Law is considered to have stimulated religious life and activities throughout the Church.
He named Pietro Gasparri to be his Cardinal Secretary of State and personally consecrated Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli on 13 May 1917 as Archbishop on the very day of the first Marian apparition in Fatima. World War I caused great damage to Catholic missions throughout the world. Benedict revitalized these activities, asking in Maximum Illud for Catholics throughout the world to participate.
His last concern was the emerging persecution of the Church in the Soviet Russia and the famine there after the revolution. Benedict was an ardent Mariologist, devoted to Marian veneration and open to new perspectives of Roman Catholic Mariology. He supported the mediatrix theology and authorized the Feast of Mary Mediator of all Graces. After seven years in office, Pope Benedict XV died on 22 January 1922. With his diplomatic skills and his openness towards modern society, "he gained respect for himself and the papacy."
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