By Larry Peterson
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.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2018