The Roman Miracle: A look back 70 years ago today

VATICAN CITY — Today, taxis, tourists and food carts line the wide piazza in front of St. Peter’s.


Pius XII Square in front of St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

But exactly 70 years ago this week, it was teeming with American tanks, trucks and jeeps, forcing the occupying German troops north and liberating Rome.

June 4, 1944, was the day U.S. troops and Allies reached the Eternal City, freeing it from the insecurities of wartime — hunger, persecution and fear.

A bright floral wreath of yellow and white was quietly hung today under a commemorative plaque on the side of the building that houses the Vatican press office.


A stone plaque commemorating the role Pope Pius XII played in saving Rome from bloodshed and havoc as the Germans abandoned the city and retreated north on June 4, 1944. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

The plaque commemorates the role Pope Pius XII played during and after World War II, but specifically in preventing Rome from becoming a killing field as the occupying Germans fled from advancing American troops.

small sign

Street sign for Piazza Pius XII. The wartime pope was declared “defender (or protector) of the city” by the city of Rome. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

The city of Rome declared Pius XII, “protector of the city,” and named the enormous piazza at the end of the Via della Conciliazione after him.



The late Arcangelo Paglialunga, eyewitness to the liberation of Rome. (CNS photo/John Thavis)

Of the people who were in that square 70 years ago, not many are still alive today.

One eyewitness I interviewed 10 years ago, died in 2011 at the age of 91.

A Vatican reporter for half a century, Arcangelo Paglialunga possessed incredible journalistic accuracy and attention to detail.

His story of that first week in June deserves to be retold — to give sight, sound and the human emotion behind what that wreath of flowers is paying tribute to today:



Veteran Vatican journalist says Pope Pius was WWII savior of Rome

By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, June 4, 2004

ROME (CNS) — While the U.S. 5th Army led by Gen. Mark Clark is remembered for being the first Allied troops to march into a Rome free from Nazi occupation, Pope Pius XII is recalled by many Romans as the man who spared the Eternal City from wartime destruction.

When Clark and his troops trundled through Rome on June 5, 1944, the streets were choked with residents cheering and celebrating the end of nine months of a city under siege. But more than 100,000 people later that same day thronged St. Peter’s Square, calling for the pope to come to his window and receive their accolades; Pope Pius XII, they said, was the miraculous savior of Rome.

“Pope Pius XII had done so much. Just think, the last Germans left Rome the evening of June 4th right at the same time the first Americans were coming in. It seemed like a miracle that not a shot had been fired. Nobody died. This was the miracle of Rome,” said Arcangelo Paglialunga, eyewitness to Rome’s liberation 60 years ago and a Vatican journalist for the past half century.


Pope Pius XII writing a wartime Christmas radio messages at the Vatican in this undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy of Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Pope Pius had done two things, said Paglialunga: He worked tirelessly convincing Allied leaders to spare Rome from its bombing campaigns, and he called on both the Americans and the Germans to not turn Rome into a killing field by keeping ground combat out of the city.

Through letters, speeches, appeals to (U.S. President Franklin D.) Roosevelt, phone calls, diplomatic maneuverings … the pope did everything to convince both sides to spare the city,” Paglialunga said in an interview with Catholic News Service.


Pope Pius XII wrote this letter to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking the president to spare Rome and its civilian population from further bombings during World War II. (CNS photo/courtesy of Knights of Columbus)

Though the Allies did bomb Rome twice in targeting German positions, ground combat during the Americans’ advance and the Germans’ retreat in June of 1944 was minimal. Also, the rampant vandalism and destruction that marked the Nazi evacuation of Naples had not been repeated.

Paglialunga said the pope was key in the aftermath of the occupation since there was no authority who could deal with the return of Romans who had fled the city.

He said the Vatican organized “by papal order a caravan of trucks that brought people back to their homes.”

The Vatican also “loaded the trucks with grain and foodstuffs from the countryside to alleviate the hunger” that still racked the city, he said.

Paglialunga grew up a few blocks away from the Vatican. His closeness to the church and local religious helped give him an insider’s view into how the Holy See helped Rome during those long months of occupation.

“During the Nazi occupation, the pope had asked Christians to help protect the Jews. I knew the priest at a church nearby who had helped get an older Jewish family hidden in the home of a parishioner. On the morning of the 5th, the priest told me to go to the house and tell the family that the Americans had come — that they were free,” he said.

The young Paglialunga was at first met with incredulity when he brought the family the good news.

“They didn’t believe me. I told them it was true that the Americans were right outside and if they still didn’t believe me I’d go out and bring one back to show them,” he said.

At that point, he said the older Jewish man, his wife and her sister all burst into tears of joy and relief.


This historic photo shows the Knights of Columbus’ San Lorenzo playground in Rome after a U.S. airstrike during World War II. (CNS photo/courtesy of Knights of Columbus)

Paglialunga, 18 years old at the time, remembers clearly, vividly and with journalistic accuracy those days of Rome’s liberation.

He remembers that on June 5 at 4:30 a.m. “a massive line of tanks came rumbling up the Via della Conciliazione headed toward St. Peter’s.”

Residents, used to long, citywide curfews, spilled into the streets. The main avenue leading to St. Peter’s Square had become a highway of American tanks and troops all driving north in pursuit of the retreating Germans.

“From the tanks, the American soldiers tossed us packs of Chesterfields cigarettes. And then they threw down cans of meat — wieners. It was incredible. After so much hunger you have no idea what it was like to suddenly eat meat from those cans,” he said.

But one of the tanks took a pit stop and parked right in St. Peter’s Square.

“The drivers were obviously Catholic. Instead of following the others up the road north, they came to the square with the tank. They had gone to the basilica to see the church and pray,” Paglialunga said.

The pope, however, did not approve of an armored tank flanking the square.


Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII, is seen in this 1929 file photo. (CNS photo)

“According to a Vatican memoir, the pope went to his studio, wrote a letter to the American command asking them to move the tank. After a while the tank left, but another one had come and parked in its place,” he said.

After months of intense fighting and many grueling battles to reach Rome, surely there were many soldiers wanting to give a prayer of thanks. Hundreds later turned out for Mass on the first Sunday after the liberation.

“I went to Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and I saw in the apse what must have been about 400 American soldiers at Mass with their chaplains. When it came time for the collection, two sacristans came out with their small collection canisters. But they didn’t get three yards before the canisters were overflowing with dollars,” he said.

“They had to return to the back of the church and they came out this time with two huge sacks slung around their shoulders. They made the rounds and it was incredible. Those sacks were spilling over with green banknotes,” he said.

In his tiny cubicle in the Holy See press office where he writes for Italian dailies in Venice and Brescia, Paglialunga still proudly displays the first Rome newspaper published after the German occupation ended. On the front page dated June 6, 1944, there is a large black-and-white photo of Clark greeting seminarians from North America in St. Peter’s Square. Just below is a photo of Pope Pius XII delivering his blessing from the central loggia to the tens of thousands of people below.


“I remember (the pope) said, ‘Yesterday, Rome was still trembling for the lives of its sons and daughters. … It can now look with new hope and a renewed faith toward its salvation,'” Paglialunga said.


For hardcore oral history fans, feel free to read the transcript from the June 3, 2004, interview with Arcangelo Paglialunga at this link: CNS_Paglialunga_memoryof_6_4_44


Allowed to Hope? Stark choices confront Central African Republic

Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, has reported from Central African Republic and has toured programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blogs and stories are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This story and an accompanying video were filed May 29.

Clarke videoBy Kevin Clark

Green doors and green porch trim mark the small shops that are — or were — owned by Muslims in the Point Kilometer 5 quarter of Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic. Many of them are open this morning in early May — more as you cruise closer to the city’s central mosque — and foot traffic seems strong at these small, roadside shops. But just as many doors are shuttered, and many green-trimmed shops are damaged or completely demolished. And closer to the informal border watched over by twitchy anti-balaka “militia,” the shops and the streets are sullen and empty. The Muslims who have taken refuge behind the mosque’s high walls since December know that to go down these empty side streets risks a sudden and brutal death.

Read more here.

Bethlehem University students engage in service through Catholic Charities program

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON (CNS) – A group of students recently arrived in the U.S. from Bethlehem University in Palestine in order to participate in a one-of-a kind program with Catholic Charities.

Fostered by a two-year partnership between the Catholic university and Catholic Charities USA, selected students travel to America every year and participate in a six-week summer internship program that allows them to use the skills they have developed within their prospective majors in Catholic Charities agencies nationwide.

Bethlehem University students to spend six weeks at catholic Charities agencies around U.S. (Photo courtesy Catholic Charities USA)

Bethlehem University students to spend six weeks at catholic Charities agencies around U.S. (Photo courtesy Catholic Charities USA)

By learning how the organization combats the problem of poverty within the United States and developing a newfound understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the U.S., participants are encouraged to use everything they learn throughout the experience in order to enact social change after returning home.

As many of the interns have never left Palestine before this trip, the participants were excited to experience a new culture, grow in knowledge, and gain a new form of insight into the problems that plague our world today.

One of this year’s 10 participants, Sarah Hasanat, described how the program will benefit many of the students.

“Many of us … have never been to the U.S. or even traveled outside of our home country so this is an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture.”

Dina Rishmawi explained that all 10 students escort tourists or visiting students around Palestine as part of an ambassador program through the university and being able to come to America allows them to continue serving as ambassadors who represent their own country. “It’s an amazing opportunity for us to not only work in the field we study but also to continue to serve as ambassadors of our country in another place.”

Amjaad Musleh, who will be working at the Catholic Charities agency in Camden, N.J., elaborated on how this experience will allow her to promote the culture of Palestine throughout the U.S. “Some people do not have a clue where Palestine is or even if it exists so this is an opportunity for us to share information regarding our country and our culture.”

Although the students were still unsure exactly what to expect out of the program during their initial four-day orientation in Washington, almost all of them recognized that they would be changed in some way by the experience.

Hasanat said, “A lot of people are poor and are in need and I think that, to experience that, to live with them and try to help them, will teach and help all of us as well. I know this program will definitely change my perspective.”

The program has already inspired new ways of thinking for Mariana Bahnan Nazi, who described how she was affected by a trip the students took to visit the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“After going to the PLO yesterday, I really loved the idea of serving my country as an ambassador for Palestine in the United States or in another country,” she said. “I began thinking more about how I can represent the Palestinian people and help others around the world.”

I am sure that these students will find new ways to serve those in need throughout the rest of their time in the U.S. and look forward to seeing what they are able to accomplish in the future.

In Kentucky, landowners await pipeline developers’ next step

Loretto Sister Ceciliana Skees was among several members of the Loretto Community in Kentucky who opposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. (CNS/courtesy Loretto Community)

Loretto Sister Ceciliana Skees was among many members of the Loretto Community in Kentucky who opposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. (CNS/courtesy Loretto Community)


Although the developers of a controversial 1,100-mile natural gas liquids pipeline passing through Kentucky have suspended investment in the project, opponents of the plan said they don’t believe it has been abandoned yet.

Sister Claire McGowan, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace in St. Catharine, Ky., and coordinator of an organization called New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, told Catholic News Service that until the companies involved in the Bluegrass Pipeline formally end the project, those opposed to it must stay vigilant.

“Any new infrastructure that is designed to expand the use of fossil fuels is absolutely the wrong way to go,” Sister Claire said.

“The real issue is that we need to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and we need to make it very soon,” she said.

The Dominican Sisters of Peace, the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, all in an environmentally sensitive rural area an hour south of Louisville, joined environmental advocates and individual landowners in a campaign earlier this year to protect property rights. The coalition worked with the Kentucky legislature to enact a law that prevents pipeline companies from using eminent domain to secure rights of way when property owners do not want to sell those rights.

In December the religious congregations released a statement on energy usage and conservation. Titled “An Energy Vision from the Heart of Kentucky’s ‘Holy Land,’” more than 130 faith-based organizations and 1,000 individuals have since signed on.

Representatives of Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, the developers, said in late April in a posting on a website touting the project that the companies are “exercising capital discipline and not investing additional capital at this time.”

The posting indicated that potential customers are looking at other sources to move natural gas liquids, or NGLs. The statement did not mention the grassroots outcry against the pipeline in Kentucky. There has been little, if any, opposition to the project in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the natural gas and NGLs are being tapped from deep shale formations through a complex procedure known as hydraulic fracturing.

Catholic News Service first wrote about the Bluegrass Pipeline in September.

Sister Claire said the momentum of the movement must continue.

“It is such a bad deal all the way around to think we’re so oriented toward profit that we cannot look at all to the values of protecting the environment that really matter for the future and our children and grandchildren,” she said.

Sister Cristina will face the final judgment… on The Voice



ROME — Regardless of all the jokes that voting for anyone other than #SuorCristina would incur excommunication, it seemed to be a given that Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia would make it to the finals of The Voice of Italy.

Even her Team J-Ax “opponent,” Dylan Magon, said in a behind-the-scenes preview that he was looking at the semi-finals show last night as his last hurrah.

o want an italy reax

Sadly, Dylan and Sister Cristina — the two final contestants on J-Ax’s team — had been the targets of widespread and often vicious criticism on social media for weeks.

Racist comments were directed against 21-year-old Dylan who was born in Palermo, Sicily, and whose parents are from the island of Mauritius,  and “haters” looked at 25-year-old Sister Cristina’s continued presence on the show, not as a sign of her promising talent, but as a showbiz gimmick to pull in viewers.


On each show, J-Ax delivered a heartfelt appeal for people to rise above the prejudice and pettiness.

“I want to live in an Italy like this: where I — an atheist rapper, can showcase, with all due respect, a nun being embraced by an Italian with Mauritian roots. I want to live in this kind of Italy,” he said last night to great applause.


He also addressed criticism that Sister Cristina shouldn’t be wearing her habit on stage, but should assume a more “neutral” presence.

J-Ax condemned assertions that her religious dress was some kind of costume put on for show, and said it was an authentic part of her true and full identity.


“It’s like Superman,” whose pretend costume is the normal everyday clothing of Clark Kent, to blend in with the crowd and cover up his true super hero essence, J-Ax said.

Sister Cristina shouldn’t hide her true nature as a religious, was his message: “If  you want the voice, you have to take the whole package.”

jaxAn unexpected, but endearing part of that package has been her ability to make this tattooed rap star get teary-eyed every time she sings.

He said on a talk show this week that Sister Cristina has been “one of the most wonderful and wholesome things that has ever happened in my career.”

While Sister Cristina’s rendition last night of  “(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life” got the most attention on YouTube, her cover of Vasco Rossi’s “Sally” in her later round was exceptional.

It’s a song about a woman who has suffered at the hands of others. But despite all the ill-will and the mistakes she’s made, she finds the inner strength to rise above the “madness” and carry on. She bravely accepts the sometimes cruel reality (the rain), while the critics and weak-kneed hide in their homes, content and wrapped-up in the pretend world of TV.






Movement to close Guantanamo prison spreads across U.S.

Josie Setzler and Franciscan Sister Paulette Schroeder, wearing hood, were among 17 members of the Tiffin, Ohio Area Pax Christi and the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin, calling for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, May 23 in the Northwest Ohio town. (CNS/courtesy Tiffin Area Pax Christi)

Josie Setzler and Franciscan Sister Paulette Schroeder, wearing hood, were among those in Tiffin, Ohio, calling for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, May 23. (CNS/courtesy Tiffin Area Pax Christi)

Josie Setzler wants people to know the United States has a moral and legal obligation to close the U.S. Army prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A member of St. Joseph Parish in Fremont, Ohio, 36 miles southeast of Toledo, Setzler took her concerns to the public once more May 23 during a global day of action to urge President Barack Obama to make good on his pledge to close the prison.

She helped coordinate an hour-long vigil during what amounts to the afternoon rush hour in the nearby town of Tiffin.

Setzler, 60, said she believes that releasing the 154 men being held, nearly all of whom have never been charged with a crime, is long overdue. Records show 76 men have been cleared for release, but remain in detention.

“The Guantanamo issue has been a hard one to keep going right now because people think it’s been resolved,” Setzler said.

The event, coordinated by Tiffin Area Pax Christi, Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin and local peace and justice organizations, was among demonstrations, prayer vigils and educational events in 38 U.S. communities and six cities around the world that focused on Obama’s pledge to close the prison during a speech at the National Defense University May 23, 2013.

Events were organized by Witness Against Torture, which has called for the prison’s closing since 2005.

In Tiffin, Setzler and her friends held large letters spelling out “Close Guantanamo.” A couple of people wore bright orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by the detainees.

“Our messages are going to be very simple. First of all it brings the subject up again. But it also lets people know it’s important to take a stand,” she said.

“It also helps people passing by to have the courage of their convictions as well.”

SOS: Students make colorful tool to help first responders

The Panther Power robotics team from Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J. presented their Sticker for Safety to local safety forces earlier this year. (Courtesy Academy of Our Lady of Peace)

Panther Power robotics team members from Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J., presented their Sticker for Safety to local safety forces earlier this year. (CNS/courtesy Academy of Our Lady of Peace)

The kids on the Panther Power robotics team at Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J., have developed a new tool that is helping local first responders.

The tool, which the youngsters on the FIRST Lego League team call the Stickler for Safety, SOS, is an adaptation of a tool police and firefighters use when responding to storms and flooding.

The kids’ version is made of sturdy lightweight plastic and can be unfolded to four feet in length. It has bright blue, orange and yellow markings to help safety forces gauge water depth and can be used to check for obstructions and find open manholes.

First responders use a wooden tool now, which cannot be folded and is susceptible to mold.

The SOS was the students’ project under FLL’s 2013-14 competition, which focused on “Nature’s Fury.” It gained the notice of judges at a national FLL tournament at Legoland in California, and the team was awarded second place in the Innovative Solutions category.

Coach Alys Tyler said the team finished second in the New Jersey FLL tournament earlier this year and earned an invitation to the FLL North American Open Championship in Carlsbad, Calif., May 16-18.

The team was formed in 2008, and some of its members have gone on to compete at the next level, FIRST Robotics, and mentor current students, Tyler said.

“They are learning science, technology, research,” Tyler, she told Catholic News Service after returning from California. “They’re learning how to work as a team. This is real world experience for them.”

FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — has been billed as sport for the brain. Students from first through 12th grades compete at different levels while developing skills in engineering, problem solving, computer programing and communication.

The atmosphere at tournaments is much like a sporting event, with cheering sections and chest bumps. Underlying the competitions is the spirit of “gracious professionalism” and cooperation.

Once Panther Power team members knew they were going to California, they immediately set out to raise funds to finance the trip. The parish, Our Lady of Peace, got behind the team and help ensure the trip would happen, Tyler said.

As for the SOS, Tyler said the students have secured a provisional patent for it and are talking about raising the money to secure their own patent, which they could then sell to a developer. Proceeds would support the team into the future.

A second team from a Catholic school — John Paul II Catholic School in Houston — also competed in the California tournament.

Coach Manny Cano said his team, the RoboKids, enjoyed the experience of competing with the best teams in the country and learned about the effort needed to become a champion. Much of what the students learned was talking with members of other teams while waiting in line for rides at the amusement park.

And team members have learned skills that will transfer well into life, Cano said.

“They’ve learned so much about a whole variety of things,” he told CNS. “It’s really fantastic. They’ve learned about teamwork. They’ve learned how to manage conflicts.”



My time in Jerusalem, in 140 or fewer characters

Catholic journalists traveling with the pope in the Holy Land had wonderful stories to tell. Some, like J.D. Long-Garcia of The Tidings in Los Angeles or John Feister of St. Anthony Messenger in Cincinnati, blogged about their experiences. But we asked a few to tell us, in one tweet, about some of their highlights May 25. Here are a sampling of replies.


The more personal side of a patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, considered first among equals of all Orthodox patriarchs, arrived in the Holy Land May 23. As he was waiting for his historic visit with Pope Francis, the patriarch visited Bethlehem, West Bank, and led a service at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Several U.S. Catholic journalists traveling with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism got a more personal glimpse of the patriarch, as described by John Feister, editor in chief of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stops to bless a baby as he leaves his hotel for his May 25 meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. (CNS/Julie Holthaus/The Leaven)

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stops to bless a baby as he leaves his hotel for his May 25 meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. (CNS/Julie Holthaus/The Leaven)

“One of the interesting moments yesterday happened in the hotel lobby before the Holy Sepulcher meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew,” he wrote.

“We were waiting for our journalist group to assemble and couldn’t help but notice a small group of Eastern Orthodox clergy, along with some camera-laden laypeople. A videographer was waiting, camera in hand, on a nearby chair, not far from the elevators. Something was about to happen.

“The folks with the cameras were American visitors; the priests were part of Patriarch Bartholomew’s party. The elevator doors opened, Patriarch Bartholomew emerged and headed for his waiting caravan, along with American Archbishop Demetrios.

“As Patriarch Bartholomew was whisked through the lobby, he spotted a mother, with two babies in a stroller, coming in the doorway. He split with his group, went over to talk with the mother, and blessed her babies. Then he raced off for the event with Pope Francis. He would drive a few blocks from the hotel to the Sepulcher; the Holy Father was on his way from Tel Aviv by helicopter.

“I ran into the woman a few moments later. ‘What a thrill!’ she exclaimed she headed down the hallway.”

Pope in Holy Land: When prayer leads to tearful embrace

(Screen grab from CTV)

(Screen grab from CTV)

VATICAN CITY — In a Holy Land pilgrimage filled with emotion, the embrace of Pope Francis, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud this morning was powerful.

Even at a distance of more than 1,400 miles, (thanks to the Vatican Television Center and Vatican Radio) viewers could read in that embrace a sense of “we are actually here; it really happened.”

The embrace, complete with tears, came after Pope Francis visited Jerusalem’s grand mufti and other Muslim leaders near the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque and then prayed at the Western Wall.

The two holy sites make up what is probably the most contested piece of real estate in the world because of its deep religious significance.

Muslims believe Muhammad was taken to the site in his famous “Night Journey” and from there transported to heaven and then back to Mecca.

The Esplanade of the Mosques sits above the sacred Jewish prayer space facing the Western Wall, which is all that remains of the wall that surrounded the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.

An interreligious pilgrimage to the site isn’t a daily occurrence, but Pope Francis wanted to go with his friends.

(Screen grab from CTV)

(Screen grab from CTV)

Rabbi Skorka is rector of Buenos Aires’ Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and co-author with the pope of the book, “On Heaven and Earth.” The two have known each other for almost 20 years and co-hosted a series of television discussion about faith and current affairs.

Abboud is the president and founder of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue, a center in Buenos Aires established with the support of then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.


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