A new book called Church of Spies, authored by historian Mark Riebling, tells the fascinating story of Pope Pius XII’s many behind-the-scenes efforts to oppose, coordinate resistance to, and help overthrow Adolf Hitler, the evil, murderous dictator of Nazi Germany. The book quotes the anti-Nazi Austrian novelist Joseph Roth, who wrote after Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected pope early in 1939, “The pre-apocalyptic beasts who dominate politics are already alluding to their true motives for persecuting the Church. [Pius XII] is the only one who really hurts them. What’s more, those who were not afraid of the pope before are now afraid of this one.”
It was said that the pope ran the world’s largest Church, the smallest state (Vatican City), and the world’s oldest spy service. Vatican diplomats around the world have traditionally excelled at providing timely and important information to the Holy Father, and Pius XII used his contacts and knowledge of events to assist and encourage the (ultimately doomed) attempts of the German resistance to remove Hitler from power. This coincided with the pope’s wide-ranging and energetic efforts to save as many Jewish lives as possible from the Nazi holocaust—an effort denied or derided by some revisionist historians, but acknowledged with gratitude by many Jewish leaders themselves, both past and present.
If anything, the prestige of the papacy has become even greater under some of Pius XII’s successors, particularly St. John Paul II and our current Holy Father, Pope Francis. However, the Church is unable by itself to prevent wars, eliminate injustice, and solve the world’s problems—and a major reason for this is that humanity as a whole refuses to acknowledge the authority of Christ the King.
In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King as a way of reasserting the universal sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the world as a whole has taken little note of Our Lord’s law of love and truth, and ignored the Church’s consistent calls for true peace and justice. Those relatively rare societies that have tried to live under His authority (such as Portugal in the 1930s, and the United States up until about fifty years ago) have been blessed, but most worldly leaders have followed a very different national agenda—one involving the accumulation of power, the exploitation of the earth, and the oppression of the defenseless (including the unborn).
Jesus will one day return as the King of all Creation, and every person will be forced to acknowledge His divine majesty and power. In the meantime, however, we are called to bear witness to Christ the King by our words and example, and to serve His people—especially those who suffer in His Name—by our sacrifices and prayers. In contemplating Christ as king, we should ask ourselves whether Jesus is truly the Lord of our lives—for only if we fully surrender ourselves to Him can we truly be part of His Kingdom.