Pope Pius XI

Posted: August 13, 2013 by Agnieszka Dankiewicz in ddak

This year we would like to present you some facts from biographies of men, who were involved in praying for priests.

Pius XI

Pope Pius XI

Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti was born on 31st May 1857 in Desio (near Milan). His father was an owner of silk’s factory. From childhood Ambrogio attended church schools. When he passed his final exam (after junior high school), he decided to apply for seminary. He continued learning and he took holly orders on 20th December 1879. He was always ambitious, capable, clever – that was why he decided to learn harder and harder. He joined Gregorian University and as a priest he studied canon law; then theology at the Dominican University (Sapienza) and philosophy at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas. In all those three subject he finished his education with the degree of doctor. Apart from his science work, he was amateur of mountain hikes and alpinism. He climbed and reached peaks such as Cima di Jazzi, Dufourspitze, Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.

In 1882 he came back to Milan to begin his pastoral work on a parish. After some time, he became a lecturer at the seminary (he taught dogmatic theology and homiletics). Time passed. Few years later he started work in the Ambrosiana Library. His duties were: securing exhibits, with particular emphasis on prints, conservation and museology. It was a time, when Ambrogio was engaged in developing his knowledge and abilities – among his ordinary obligations he could learn much about history and art. In addition: it was a chance for him to go to other countries for researches.

He came back in 1907 and became a supervisor of Ambrosiana Library. Seven years later, in 1914, he moved and started to work as prefect of the Vatican Library. It wasn’t a reason to stop his journeys – in 1918 pope Benedict XV sent him as apostolic visitor to Poland. When Poland became independent, Ambrogio was appointed to be an apostolic Nuncio. In 1919 pope Benedict XV nominated him to be an archbishop of Naupactus. Three years later, Ambrogio was an archbishop of Milan.

On 19th July 1921, he was nominated to be a cardinal. 5 months later the conclave took place – on 22nd January 1922 pope Benedict XV died because of serious health complications, which happened as a result of flu. Ambrogio was elected as a pope on 6th February 1922 and as his papal name he chose “Pius XI”.

From the very beginning of his pontificate he took concrete action to solve some problems or current affairs connected with Church community. He ordered to start a conclave 15-18 days after a death of previous pope (main advantage of such a solution was an argument that it would be an additional time for cardinals from distant countries to get to Rome). On the initiative of Pius XI church authorities have signed a concordat with the state government – in addition: in this moment Vatican City State was officially created as an independent area and Rome was regarded to be a capital city of Italy. It was an incredible turning point, because for many years there was a conflict between church authorities and state government – after signing a concordat situation changed, a clash ended and then there was a reconciliation. That was why he was called “a Pope of reconciliation”.

In his teaching, Pius XI wanted to show how important was to reward to Christ for own sins, but also for our neighbors’ sins. On his initiative the tradition of first Fridays was developed and maintained. He decided to popularize a feast of Christ the King. In 1931 he initiated a feast of Mary the Holy Mother of God (traditionally celebrated on 1st January). He established the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Missionary-Ethnographic Museum. He tried to explain subject connected with ecumenism. What was more: he opposed ideology of Nazism and Communism and wanted to show their anti-religious nature.

One of his encyclicals was „Ad Catholici Sacerdotii Fastigium”. It was published on 20th December 1935. In this encyclical pope wanted to point that a priest was a successor of the Apostles and because of it he had a special vocation to spread God’s Word, to show youth a path to Father in Heaven and to encourage people to love each other. He said: “The human race has always felt the need of a priesthood: of men, that is, who have the official charge to be mediators between God and humanity, men who should consecrate themselves entirely to this mediation, as to the very purpose of their lives, men set aside to offer to God public prayers and sacrifices in the name of human society.”
In this way pope created an image of priesthood, which was full of responsibility, challenges and new tasks.

Pius XI was aware, how many difficulties and problems could appear in priest’s life. Keeping it in mind, he wrote in his encyclical: “The enemies of the Church themselves well know the vital importance of the priesthood; for against the priesthood in particular (…) they direct the point of their attacks. It is the priesthood they desire to be rid of; that they may clear the way for that destruction of the Church, which has been so often attempted yet never achieved.”

All those things made clear how important was to pray for priests and to support them in their everyday service. Pope encouraged laics to take care about Church and priests – just because of a fact that community was created both: by laics and by priests.
His words were perfectly matched with actions – he didn’t simply talk about priesthood and responsibility for Church’s shepherds. He gave a chance to all young people, who heard a voice of vocation in their heart. He took care about opening new seminaries, he taught about providing there a solid and reliable knowledge. He wanted young men, who prepared to become a priest, to develop their vocation in proper conditions.
Pius XI saw a need to remind about a holiness of marriage and family – he knew that a family was a place of growth of vocation and where conscience shaped.

He died on 10th February 1939, just before the beginning of the Second World War. After many years, there were some “conspiracy theories” and many doubts or conjectures about real reason of his death. He was buried in St. Peter’s basilica.


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