There is still controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII and his perceived indifference to the crimes the Nazis were committing during World War II. The Pope was constantly bombarded with pleas for help on behalf of the Jews but, as head of the Vatican state, had to feign neutrality. However, his apparent lack of action was a ruse, and the Holy Father was more than willing to take the abuse that came with it.
In 1940 the papal secretary of state was asked to intercede to keep Jews in Spain from being deported to Germany. A similar request was made for Jews in Lithuania. Even the Assistant Chief of the U.S. delegation to the Vatican, Harold Tittman, asked the Pope to condemn the atrocities. The Vatican claimed “neutrality” suggesting that Catholics in German-held lands might be affected. The papacy did nothing, or so it seemed.
Behind the scenes, Pope Pius XII sheltered a small number of Jews and asked select friends to see if they might find ways to help the Jews. Of course, there was his low-profile, secret weapon, Father Giovanni Ferrofino.
Father Giovanni’s mission came directly from Pope Pius XII. He had orders that sent him first to the Portuguese president asking him to grant visas for Jews seeking refuge in his country. Then he was sent to the Dominican Republic where twice a year he asked for 800 visas for Jews to travel from Portugal to the island nation.
They communicated via double-encrypted messages which Father Giovanni would have to decode. Then he would travel for two days with the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Maurilio Silvani, so the request could be delivered by hand directly to the Dominican leader, General Raphael Trujillo.
Most of these refugees would eventually travel from the Dominican Republic to other countries finding final refuge in the United States, Canada, Cuba, and Mexico.
These clandestine operations took place from 1939 thru 1945. During that time over 10,000 Jews were saved from the Holocaust. Pope Pius XII was the mastermind behind the operation. However, the mission could never have been accomplished without Giovanni Ferrofino.
On November 28, 1961, Giovanni Ferrofino was consecrated as the Titular Archbishop of Zenopolis (an ancient Roman city) and then appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Ecuador, a position he resigned from in 1970.
In 2010, The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem honored Archbishop Ferrofino for his help in saving so many Jews during the Holocaust. He was declared “Righteous Among Nations.”
Archbishop Ferrofino died on December 20, 2010. He was 98 years old. He is counted among the many unsung heroes of World War II.
They called him Brother “Fix-it” and his religious name was Brother Leo. He loved the poor and joined the order of the De La Salle Christian Brothers so that he could mentor, help, comfort, teach, and protect the poorest of God’s children. In 1982, while serving the downtrodden in Guatemala, he was gunned down by three masked men. Pope Francis has issued a decree of martyrdom for Brother James Miller, and henceforth he will be called Blessed.
James Miller was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in 1944. It was a premature birth, and baby James weighed in at under four pounds. James defied the medical science of the 1940s. He survived and grew into a six-foot-two-inch, 220-pound man.
James attended Pacelli High School in Stevens Point which was run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. Impressed with his teachers he graduated and entered St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. St. Mary’s was also run by the De La Salle Brothers and in 1962 he entered the order as a postulant (candidate). Upon finishing his novitiate (training period) he donned the habit and took the name of Leo William. In due time, he did as many religious were doing and went back to using his baptismal name; he became Brother James Miller.
Brother James began his career as a teacher in Cretin High School where he taught Spanish and English plus religion. He was also the football coach and was so adept at maintaining and repairing equipment, including plumbing and electrical problems, that he became known as “Brother Fix-It.”
In 1969 Brother James was sent to Nicaragua to take charge of a run-down school with about 300 students. Under his guidance and determination, the student enrollment quickly grew and within a few years was at 800. He was then put in charge of the construction of ten new schools located in rural areas of Nicaragua.
When the Sandinista Revolution began in 1979, he was ordered to leave Nicaragua. His superiors knew that Brother James had cooperated with the Somoza Government and would now be targeted by the Sandinistas. Brother James had kept lines of communication open with the government because he needed their cooperation so he could open new schools. He resisted leaving, but he and his superiors soon discovered that his name was on the Sandinista “death list.”
Brother James returned to the United Staes and went back to teaching at Cretin High Scool. He had promised the people in Nicaragua that he would return to them. It did not happen. Instead, in 1981, he was sent to Guatemala. He began teaching in Huehuetenango, a city in the Guatemalan highlands, which had a large population of suffering Guatemalan Indians.
Brother James had been going about his work providing job skills and schooling to the oppressed natives in the area. But he was a marked man because it was discovered that the pro-government, Guatemalan armed forces, who had a death squad known as G-2, had Brother James on their hit list.
On February 13, 1982. Brother James was working up on a ladder repairing a section of wall on the school. It was early morning and he never saw his assassins sneaking up behind him. As he wielded his hammer to complete repairs the three masked men opened fire on brother James. Children watched from the school windows as their beloved teacher fell from his ladder. He had died before he hit the ground. No one was ever charged for the murder.
Brother James Albert Miller had died “In Odium Fidei” (In Hatred of the Faith). In 2009, Brother James has declared a man of “heroic Virtue” and pronounced as Venerable. Pope Francis has issued the decree of Martyrdom for Brother James, and sometime during the year of 2019, he will be officially Beatified becoming Blessed James Miller.
For me, there is something about the smell of freshly burned incense filling the church that is spiritually uplifting. But where did it come from and why do we use it?
The use of incense in religious worship started more than two thousand years before Christianity even began. Recordings of the use of incense in China is documented before 2000 BC aka BCE. The trading of incense and spices was a major economic factor in the trade between east and west when caravans traveled the Middle Eastern Incense Route from Yemen through Saudi Arabia. The route ended in Israel and it was here that it was introduced to the Roman Empire.
Religions in the western world have long used incense in their ceremonies. Incense is noted in the Talmud and is mentioned 170 times in the Bible. (e.g., Exodus 30: 1)
“For burning incense you shall make an altar of acacia wood —“
The use of incense in Jewish worship continued long after the beginning of Christianity and was a definite influence in the Catholic Church’s use of it in liturgical celebrations. The church sees the burning of incense as an image of the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven. The symbolism is mentioned in Psalm 141:2:
“Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening offering.”
There is no specific time frame recorded to let us know when incense was introduced into the religious services of the Church. No evidence is available to show its use during the first four centuries of the Church. But there are references to it being used in the New Testament. Luke, in the beginning of his gospel about the birth of John the Baptist writes: 1:10-12:
“Then, when the whole assembly of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him standing at the right of the altar of incense. Zechariah was troubled by what he saw and fear came upon him.”
Incense is a sacramental used to sanctify, bless, and venerate. The smoke from the incense is symbolic of the mystery of God Himself. As it rises upward the imagery and smell convey the sweetness of Our Lord’s presence and it reinforces how the Mass is linked to Heaven and Earth ending in the very presence of God. The smoke also symbolizes the intense faith that should fill us all and the fragrance is representative of Christian virtue.
The GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) permits the use of incense at several times during the Mass: The senior altar server who carries the Thurible (the metal container that holds the burning incense) is called the Thurifer. The Thurifer is assisted by a server called the “Boat.” He or she holds the small metal container that holds the incense supply.
At the proper time, they go over to the celebrant and he uses a small spoon to deposit incense onto the burning charcoal inside the Thurible. Then he blesses it without saying anything. (Please note that when something is incensed the thurible is swung three times which represents the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.
There are different times during the Mass that incense may be used.
During the entrance procession
At the beginning of Mass to incense the altar and the cross
Before the Gospel reading
After the bread and the chalice are placed on the altar to incense the offerings, the cross, the altar, the priest, and finally the people.
In addition, incense is used at funerals both in the church at the casket and at the cemetery. It is used on Holy Thursday as the Blessed Sacrament is put in repose. And during the Easter Vigil, five grains of incense are placed into the Paschal Candle.
Finally, let us go to the Book of Revelation 8:3-4
“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer (thurible). He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones on the gold altar which was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel.”
Yes, there can be no doubt; the use of incense is deeply rooted in our Catholic heritage.
My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me how to be Catholic. He is doing this by living in my mind via memories of his personal Christianity in action. The Feast of All Saint’s Day flips a switch that turns on one of these memories. That is also when I began to embrace the fact that the vast majority of the first Catholics were born and raised Jewish .
I remember that Friday night long ago. We lived in the south Bronx in a five-story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four-room apartment and we never even considered that it was small and cramped. The neighborhood was the same for all families except for those living up on the upscale Grand Concourse. That’s where the “money” people lived in buildings with courtyards and sometimes the courtyards even had fish ponds in the middle.
It was still September and summer had not yet left. Back then no-one had air-conditioning and everyone kept their windows open praying for a breeze. The screaming started a little past midnight. It filled the back alleyway and floated unmercifully upward and into the open windows. Our apartment was directly above the window from where the screams were coming and on this night they seemed exceptionally close and blood-curdling. Pop got up and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”
We watched as Pop left our apartment and headed down the stairs. We followed and quietly sat on the upper landing stretching our necks so our heads would make a right-angle turn to see down and around the landing below. We watched our father, who without hesitation, walked over to the apartment door and began banging on it with his fist.
This was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. Leo was the landlord and he owned the building. No one dared complain to the landlord about noise coming from his apartment even if it was about midnight screams that curled the hairs on your neck. But Pop was not going down to complain. He was going to see if he could help. He had this way about him and sometimes he was uncommonly instinctive.
The door opened and Leo poked his head out. Pop started talking to him and, incredibly, Leo just stood there listening. The man was short, maybe 5’2″, he had a droopy mustache that needed tending and his sagging shoulders said he was obviously worn out. He held a pipe off to the side of his head and his face seemed to be saying, “Please help me.”
Pop continued talking for a minute or so and suddenly Leo Rabinowitz, the “feared” Jewish landlord, buried his head in my father’s chest and began crying unashamedly. Danny and I were stunned. Then Pop, his arm around Leo’s shoulder, disappeared into Leo’s apartment.
We both went back into our apartment and lay there conjecturing away at all the possibilities that may have caused this unexpected union between a landlord and tenant, a Jewish man and a Catholic man, between two people who were neighbors but were not really except for location and who had nothing in common.
Within fifteen minutes Bobby, Johnny, and Carolyn had joined Danny and I in the conversation and by the time our five imaginations extrapolated each other’s ideas, we “knew” that Leo Rabinowitz was a communist spy and he had somehow killed our father and disposed of his dismembered body in the coal furnace down in the basement.
As we plotted our course of action Pop came back into our apartment. It had been a few hours, or at least it seemed that way. Pop just walked through our bedroom and headed to the back room moving ever so slowly. When he paused by his workbench he sat on the stool, lowered his head into his upraised fingers, took in a deep breath and sighed. Then, ever so quietly, he pulled his beads from his pocket and started praying the rosary. None of us interrupted and I think we all just fell asleep.
We found out about those screams the next morning. Sophie was having nightmares all right, nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death with rifle butts by the Nazis, who also insisted that the boy’s mom and dad watch as they killed their sons. To this day I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like.
They were loving parents and were rendered helpless as godless people murdered their children, enjoying inflicting their heinous butchery on innocents. The ultimate torture distributed by the Nazis was allowing Leo and Sophie to watch. Sophie’s screams told that story night after night, year after year after year. How ghastly and cruel those memories had to be.
All Saint’s Day is celebrated on November 1. The gospel reading for the day is from Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes. When the priest reads them the switch will flip and I will go back to that Friday once again. It always happens. I hear #2, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”; then #5, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”; and #7, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
Pop lived all three of those Beatitudes that Friday night long ago. He mourned with his Jewish neighbors, he was merciful to them and he brought a sense of peace into their lives. My gift was being able to remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbors and how they became friends. I also remember that because of that friendship Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz became friends with other folks in the building and in the neighborhood.
My final lesson in all of this was when Pop told me to get out my missal and read the Roman Canon. I did and began reading., silently. “Out loud”, he said. I paused for a moment and looked at him. He said, “Just do it.”
I did until I got to the part that read, “whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary—, and blessed Joseph, her spouse—“, etc. “Okay, stop,” he said. “Tell me about all those people.”
“What about them?” I don’t understand.”
“Never ever forget that almost all of them were Jewish, including Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our roots are deeply embedded in Judaism. We Catholic/Christians and Jews are joined at the spiritual hip “in perpetuity”. Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz are our brother and sister too. Never forget that.”
*Folks have liked this post so I run it every year
Long ago in Ireland, the land of shamrocks, leprechauns, soft winds and smiles, there lived a man named Jack. Jack was quite lazy and did not like to work. But he had the gift of “blarney” and could talk the peat off the moss.
He would tell wondrous tales about his adventures as a world traveler and the people in his village would be held spellbound by his golden tongue. Alas, Jack outsmarted himself when he stole money from the townsfolk. He thought that they were not very smart and would never find out. But they did find out and began chasing him down the streets of the village.
As Jack ran down the road as fast as he could he rounded a bend and ran smack into the devil. The devil smiled at Jack and told him it was time for him to die and that he was there to take his soul. Jack quickly convinced the devil that if he would let him go and promise to never take his soul he would give him all the souls of the folks who were chasing him. “And how do you plan to do that, Jack?” the devil asked.
“Well now, all ye have ta do is turn ye-self into a pot of gold coins. Then I will give the coins to the people and you will be in all of their pockets. They will be yours.”
Since many souls were better than only one, the devil readily agreed and turned himself into a pot of gold coins. Jack gave the coins to all the people and they went away smiling never realizing that they had given themselves to the devil in return for money.
So Jack lived on, grew old and, like all mortal men, finally died. His life had been so sinful on earth that he could not get into heaven and since the devil could not take his soul, he could not get into hell. He had nowhere to go. He asked the devil how he was supposed to see because he was in complete darkness. The devil laughed and tossed Jack a burning ember from the fires of hell, an ember that would never burn out.
Jack, using the ember to guide his way, found a pumpkin patch (some say it was turnips) and carved out a pumpkin. He put the ember inside and began carrying it around so he could see where he was going. To this day he wanders the earth seeking a resting place. And that is why he is known as “Jack-O’-Lantern” or “Jack of the Lantern”.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. It is better known as the Basilica of St. Mary Major. St. Mary Major is part of the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran which is the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Rome. That simply means that the Chair of Peter, from which the Pope speaks ecclesiastically on matters of Faith & Morals (aka ex-cathedra), is located here. As the oldest and most important basilica in the western world, it bears the title, Ecumenical Mother Church of the Catholic Faithful.
Within the Basilica of St. Mary Major is a copy of a painting. It is a painting of the Blessed Mother holding the child, Jesus,in her arms. The child is seen pointing to His mother. The original picture was painted by the renowned Italian artist, Carlo Maratta (1625-1713).
History tells us that Carlo Maratta, who became the court painter for King Louis XIV of France, gave the painting to a young nun by the name of Sister Clara Isabel Fornari (there are those that say that Sister Carla painted the picture herself but most accounts reject that idea).
Sister Clara, who embraced a strict life of penance, was blessed with many mystical graces. As time passed, she received the Sacred Stigmata of Our Lord’s Passion. She had a profound devotion to Our Lady and became deeply attached to the image of Our Lady with the Divine Infant.
The original copy of the painting remains in the chapel in Todi, Italy; a copy hangs in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. (All copies offer the same spiritual powers as the original). The seminary there has always held the picture in great esteem. The students, having recourse to the miraculous image in their most pressing needs, always had their prayers answered by Our Lady. The seminarians began calling the painting, “Our Lady of Confidence.” It is also became known as “Mater mea Fiducia mea!” (My Mother, my Confidence).
Noteworthy was the complete protection granted by Our Lady of Confidence to the seminarians against the scourge of Asiatic Cholera that claimed thousands of lives throughout Italy in 1837.
During the First World War, the Blessed Virgin watched over the more than 100 seminarians who had turned to her with redoubled confidence. Many seminarians were sent to the war, and there are numerous letters written from the battlefield recounting the marvels worked by the Madonna for those who had sought her intercession. The seminarians developed such a devotion to the painting that they requested it be granted a Canonical Coronation.
Pope Gregory XVI did grant a Canonical Coronation to the image on 14 October 1838, at the requested petition of the seminarians. Also, Pope Pius X, was particularly devoted to Mary under this title. In addition, Pope St. John XXIII, was a great devotee of Our Lady of Confidence. He visited the holy image frequently. He loved this devotion so much he offered his very first Mass in its presence.
What follows is a translation taken from a parchment which had the words of the Blessed Mother as written down by Sister Clara:
“The Divine Lady deigned to reveal to me that every soul that confidently presents herself before this picture will obtain from her Divine Son the general pardon for all their sins. Moreover, my Divine Lady assured me with the love of a true mother that she would grant a special tenderness and devotion toward everyone who contemplated this picture.”
When presenting oneself before the painting the ejaculatory prayer should be, “My Mother, My Confidence.”
My parents would have celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary on September 19, 2018. They had made it to their 17th anniversary when Mom died. Dad lasted four years and then he was gone. For some unknown reason, their anniversary played inside my head…over and over.
I have Masses offered for both of them and other family members during the year. But it occurred to me I had never had a mass offered for my mother and father as a husband and wife. Let’s face it; as a kid you do not think of your parents as regular “people.” Rather, they are just mom and dad. So, in honor of their Diamond Jubilee Anniversary, a Mass was offered just for them.
When I opened the Sunday church bulletin and saw their names, Emil & Lillian Peterson, together as a couple, I could not believe how I reacted; I was standing in the church narthex with some friends and tears started flowing down my face. Shocked at my own reaction, I hurried outside hoping no one had noticed. I took a few deep breaths and regrouped. Whew!
There was one more thing I needed to do. I have written about many, many saints; some known and many unknown. But I had never tried to find St. Lillian or St. Emil. It was time to see if they even existed. What follows is a result of my quest.
There was a Saint Lillian. She lived in the ninth century in Muslim controlled Spain. It was a time when Catholics lived in constant fear of the Moors. They had no problem torturing and killing “infidels,” and Catholics were definitely “infidels.” Lillian was a Catholic layperson and had to practice her faith in secret.
History tells us the during the reign of the Caliph Abdurrahaman II, a great persecution took place. Lillian, her husband, Felix, and a man named Aurelius, were exposed as Catholics. Lillian and Felix along with Aurelius stepped forward and publicly admitted that they were, indeed, Catholic. They knew full well that death would come with their admission.
The Moors gave them four days to renounce their Christianity and to embrace Islam. After four days they all refused, remaining steadfast in their beliefs. They were all sentenced to death. Saint Lillian, Saint Felix, and Saint Aurelius, died in Cordova, Spain circa 892. A.D. They were all named saints during the pre-congregation era.
Saint Lillian’s feast day is on July 27th. She is the patroness of women named Lillian, Lily (my Mom’ nickname) and Elizabeth. We are supposed to pray to Saint Lillian to help strengthen our faith and to help us spread unconditional love to our neighbors. Ironically, in my novel, the Priest and The Peaches, the character of Elizabeth was fashioned after my mother, Lillian. That was never planned.
There also was a Saint Emil aka Emilian. Emil was a shepherd living in North Africa sometime around the year 250 A.D. He became a hermit and after a while was ordained a priest. He was a natural organizer and was able to develop a large group of followers. He became their Abbott and is called the first Spanish Benedictine.
During the latter part of the third century, the Roman Emperor, Decius, began a relentless persecution of the Christians. Emil was arrested and, after being weakened by constant torture, was released. He regained some strength and returned to preaching again. He was brought before the same judge that had ordered him tortured. This time he was sentenced to death.
Before being executed by fire, Emil was once again subjected to various, inhumane tortures. When his captors realized Emil would never renounce his faith, he was burned alive.