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The improbable saint

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As a papal nuncio during and immediately after World War II, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli publicly defied Pope Pius XII, who had issued orders that those Catholic institutions that saved Jewish children during the Shoah must keep those children and raise them as Catholics. Roncalli, already in trouble for indiscriminately handing out fake baptism certificates to Jews seeking to escape the Nazi death machine, refused the pope’s command.

Born into a sharecropper’s family and with no political clout whatever, Roncalli stayed away from the Vatican in October 1958, when the College of Cardinals met to choose a successor to Pius XII. When the white smoke blew over St. Peter’s Square after the 11th ballot, however, it was for Roncalli, who from then on would be known as John XXIII, the improbable pope.

We applaud Pope Francis for waiving the rules so that this man, who did more to modernize the Catholic Church and to set it on a new, positive path in its relationship with the Jews, soon will become a Catholic saint.

We welcome, too, the naming of Pope John Paul II. Jews have much cause to remember him fondly, as well, including his wartime experiences in Poland and in being the first pope to visit a synagogue.

We only hope that this does not portend another sainthood — for Pius XII, whose record during the Shoah was anything but saintly.


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