A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF POPE ST. PIUS X
Excerpts taken from the book by
NEW AND REVISED EDITION, 1954
Originally Published 1918
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur
PATRIARCH OF VENICE
IN the consistory of June 12, 1893, Pope Leo XIII named Bishop Sarto cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, and three days later appointed him archbishop and patriarch of Venice. [Patriarch is an honorary title. The only real patriarch in the Western Church is the pope himself.] On June 7 the bishop had set out for Rome, and on the 15th, in the presence of representatives from Venice, Treviso, Mantua and Riese, he received the cardinal's hat, with the title of San Bernardo alle Terme. The wisdom and modesty of the new cardinal, added to his charm of manner, won him many friends during his stay in Rome. For sixteen months Cardinal Sarto was unable to take possession of his see; for the Italian government, having claimed the right to nominate the patriarch, refused to sanction his appointment; and the municipality of Venice, which was largely anti-clerical, was only too glad of a pretext to show hostility to the Church.
The cardinal's first visit after his return from Rome was to his mother at Riese. At one of the stations on the way thither he was met by a deputation of his old friends the Tombolani, headed .by their parish priest. Quite forgetting in their joy the respect due to a prince of the Church, the simple peasants rushed at their old curate, shouting vociferously, "Don Giuseppe! Don Giuseppe!" The cardinal, pleased with their enthusiasm, laughed and greeted his old friends with much affection.
All the bells were ringing in Riese as he entered it; all the people, young and old, were there to meet him and to escort him, the centre of a laughing, weeping, shouting crowd, to the church. Everyone was at Benediction, and when old friends had been greeted and good wishes given and received, the greatest joy of all was still to come --- the meeting in the little home of his childhood, where Margherita had her son at last to herself. Next morning the cardinal preached to the people, thanking them for their welcome, and speaking of all the precious memories that centred for him round the altar where he had made his first communion and offered his first Mass. The day was spent in receiving visits; there was a kind word of greeting for new friends, and a still kinder word of remembrance for the old.
Early next day, having vested in his scarlet cappa magna, Cardinal Sarto went to his mother's room and, standing beside her bed, showed himself in all the glory of the "sacred purple." Margherita wept with joy; but there were tears of sorrow before night. It was the last day at Riese, and although neither of them knew it, that parting kiss was to be the last on this side of the grave. The old mother clung to her son with a passionate tenderness as he clasped her frail figure in his arms. She was eighty years old, and at that age partings are hard. A few months later the sorrowful news of her death reached the cardinal, now back at Maritua and busy with his episcopal duties. The joy of the last meeting and the grief of the last parting had been too much for the old mother's heart.
In September 1894 the government gave way at last, and the exequatur or confirmation of the papal bull arrived. A few weeks later Cardinal Sarto pontificated for the last time in the cathedral of Mantua, and, bidding a loving farewell to the diocese where he had laboured so long and so strenuously, set out for Venice.
For years a government hostile to religion had waged relentless war on the Church in Italy. Laws had been passed forbidding religious teaching in the schools; charitable works had been "laicized": in other words, the goods of religious fraternities and charitable societies had been confiscated by the state, the revenues of bishoprics had been refused to prelates appointed by the pope, and rights of patronage had been claimed by the government over many sees. The result was soon to be seen in a growing materialism in all ranks of society.
"God is driven out of politics by this theory of the separation of church and state," wrote the new patriarch in his first letter to his flock. He is driven out of learning by systematized doubt; from art by the degrading influence of realism; from law by a morality which is guided by the senses alone; from the schools by the abolition of religious instruction; from Christian marriage, which they want to deprive of the grace of the sacrament; from the cottage of the poor peasant, who disdains the help of Him who alone can make his hard life bearable; from the palaces of the rich, who no longer fear the eternal Judge who will one day ask from them an account of their stewardship. ...We must fight this great contemporary error, the enthronement of man in the place of God. The solution of this, as of all other problems, lies in the Church and the teaching of the Gospel."
The Venetian people were determined to show their new pastor that the representatives of the government were not the representatives of popular feeling. Amidst the decorations which adorned the town, the municipal buildings alone remained untouched; amongst the crowds that gathered to meet the patriarch, the members of the municipality were conspicuously absent. The people resolved on an ovation the like of which had never before been seen. As the patriarch entered the launch that had been sent to receive him; the bells of all the towers in the City of the Sea rang out a joyous welcome; from every balcony and bridge came bursts of cheering, while a closely packed and enthusiastic crowd occupied every available space along the route. At the prow of the launch stood Cardinal Sarto in all the splendour of scarlet robes, a noble manly figure, full of dignity and sweetness, blessing the crowd with the winning smile that was characteristic of him.
On the following morning in St. Mark's, having listened to the congratulatory speeches addressed to him, the cardinal turned to the people, and in the breathless silence that followed, his clear voice rang out to the farthest recesses of the cathedral.
"I should be ashamed," he said, "to be the object of such honour, did I not know that it is offered, not to my poor person, but to Jesus Christ, whose representative I am and in whose name I come among you. You wish to show that you see in me your bishop, your father, and your patriarch, and I am bound to love you in return. When Jesus Christ gave to St. Peter the charge of His sheep and of His lambs, He asked him three times for the assurance of his love, thus giving him to understand that love is the greatest necessity for a shepherd of souls. From this moment I gather you all into my heart; I love you with a strong and supernatural love, desiring but the good of your souls. For you are all my family --- priests, citizens, great and small, rich and poor. My heart and my love are yours, and from you I ask nothing but the same love in return. My only desire is that you should say of me, 'Our patriarch is a man of upright intention, who holds high the banner of our Lord Jesus Christ, who seeks only to defend the truth and to do good.' And since God has raised me, a son of the people, to this high dignity, He will certainly give me the strength and the grace necessary for so great a mission. It is the duty of a bishop to proclaim God's truth, to interpret it to the people; and I look upon it as a holy duty to speak frankly in its defence. I am ready to make any sacrifice for the salvation of souls. You who have zeal for the things of God, work with me, help me, and God will give us the grace that is necessary to achieve our ends."
The Venetians were deeply moved; they felt that their new patriarch was a truly apostolic man, and the impression only gathered strength as time went on. The doors of his house were always open to anyone, rich or poor, who wished to speak to the patriarch; the troubles of the least of his flock were his own. He threw himself with all his heart into every movement for the bettering of the condition of the poor, often settling, by his tact and zeal, bitter disputes between capital and labour. The municipality was, as we have seen, anti-clerical. He rallied the Catholic forces with such success that within a year they prevailed. For he knew the way to obtain his ends; and while throwing into the struggle the whole influence of his forceful personality, he inaugurated throughout the diocese, before and during the elections, a regular crusade of prayer. Wherever he went, peace and reconciliation followed. "Possessed of much sweetness and charm of manner," wrote one who knew him, "and uniting a certain stateliness and dignity with a graceful address and a delightful sense of humour, he preached the gospel of personal culture, putting cleanliness next to godliness, and good manners next to good morals, himself setting the example in these things."
As at Mantua and at Treviso, he insisted strongly on religious instruction for all classes. Ignorance of Christian teaching, he said, was the great defect of the times, and very many evils sprang from this alone. Many who were learned in secular sciences were deplorably ignorant of the truths of their faith. Preachers were apt to take too much for granted that their congregations were well instructed, and on this account their sermons bore little fruit.
"There is too much preaching and too little teaching," said the patriarch; "put aside these flowery and elaborate discourses, and preach to the people plainly and simply on the eternal truths of faith and on the teaching of the Gospel. Think of the good of souls rather than of the impression you are making. The people are thirsting for truth; give them what they need for their souls' health, for this is the first duty of a priest."
He insisted on religious instruction for adults as well as children, but reminded his priests that all these things require study, preparation and prayer. As nothing pertaining to the dignity of the priesthood was small in his eyes, he insisted that the clergy should be tidy in dress and scrupulously clean. He mixed freely with the people, often stopping to talk to those he met in friendly and familiar fashion. The Venetians loved him dearly. "There goes our dear patriarch," they would say, "intent on some good. God bless him and the mother who bore him." His home life was as simple as ever, and his charities as great. His two sisters and his niece kept house for him. His steward had to put him on an allowance, so unmeasured was his almsgiving, and it was said that the episcopal ring of the chief pastor of Venice was more than once in pawn.
"Times are changed," said an old friend who was visiting him, as the cardinal pulled out a gold watch from his pocket. "Do you remember the silver one which was always going to the pawnbroker at Tombolo?"
The patriarch looked ruefully at the watch. "The person who gave it me," he said, laughing, "had the unfortunate inspiration to get the patriarchal arms engraved on the back!"
"I am so sorry to have to send you such a wretched sum," he wrote to a priest in Mantua who had applied to him for money for some charity; "I was poor at Mantua, but here I am a perfect beggar. Take what I send in the same spirit, and forgive me."
The diocesan visitation begun soon after his arrival in Venice was no small affair, and took several months to accomplish. "We appreciate greatly the zeal and charity of our patriarch," said the people, "but we are praying that he may sometimes think a little of himself, for such men are precious, and we want to keep him as long as we can." As at Mantua, he begged that there might be as little pomp and ceremony as possible, and that no extraordinary preparations might be made in the different parishes for his arrival. With quick intuition he saw at a glance exactly what was needed in the way of reform or development, and at the synod which followed showed a perfect knowledge of the requirements of the archdiocese.
The eucharistic congress in Venice which took place in August, I898, was prompted and carried out by the zeal and energy of Patriarch Sarto, who spared no pains to make it a success. Inaugurated as a reparation for the many sacrileges offered to Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, its aim was to stimulate the faith of the people and to arouse in them a greater love for this mystery of their faith. Each parish was to take its part in the celebration, the whole congress being carefully organized by the cardinal himself. "The heart of man," he said, "is inconstant in good; it grows cold and careless if it is not stirred up to action from time to time." Conferences were held and missions preached in many of the Venetian churches to prepare the people. The bells of all the city rang out to announce the beginning of the congress, which opened with a magnificent procession to St. Mark's. The inaugural address was preached by Cardinal Svampa, Archbishop of Bologna; and on the following day the patriarch himself addressed the people.
"Jesus is our king," he said, "and we delight to honour as our king Him whom the world dishonours and disowns. We, His true subjects, offer our true homage to Christ the King; the warmth of our love shall be greater than the coldness of the world. We meet around the tabernacle where Jesus remains in our midst until the end of time; there faith springs up anew in our hearts, while the fire of His charity --- the very fire that He came to cast upon the earth-burns within us. The object of this eucharistic congress is to make reparation to our Lord Jesus Christ for the insults offered to Him in the Blessed Sacrament; to pray that His thoughts may be in our minds, His charity in our institutions, His justice in our laws, His worship in our religion, His life in our lives."
On the afternoon of the third day the final procession was one of the most magnificent of all the magnificent pageants ever seen in the City of the Sea, even in the days when the doge went in solemn state to wed the Adriatic. Cardinal Svampa carried the monstrance, while before and after him went cardinals in scarlet, bishops in cope and mitre, religious orders, the confraternities with their banners and insignia, hierarchs and priests of the Byzantine and Armenian rites in their vestments. "Splendid as a dream," wrote one who was present, "it seemed as if the very Greek saints had stepped out of the mosaics in the cathedral to be present at the solemn passage of Christ in their midst."
Cardinal Sarto had not been long at Venice before he determined on a thorough reform of church music. He summoned Don Lorenzo Perosi, a young cleric whom he had known at Mantua and a skilled musician. Music, said the patriarch, was intended to excite the faithful to devotion and to help them to pray: the music in vogue did neither. The fearful and wonderful performances of string orchestras, dear to the hearts of many, were banned, as was the use of drums, trumpets, tambourines and whistles. No instrument but the organ was to be used in the churcheS, and even that was to be subordinate. The words of the Mass were to be sung to the Gregorian chant with solemnity and dignity, and by men and boys alone. That the change was not acceptable in all quarters was hardly to be wondered at. The operatic efforts of loud-voiced ladies singing the O Salutaris during Mass to the air of the serenade from Faust, or a Creed that was like the Brigands' Chorus from an opera, still found many admirers.
Nevertheless, when a Mass of Palestrina was sung under the leadership of Perosi for the first time in the cathedral of St. Mark, the Venetians realized the difference. "Enchantingly beautiful," they said. But it was uphill work, and Don Lorenzo would have lost heart altogether had it not been for the support and encouragement of his holy patron.
One of the poorest of the island parishes of Venice was Burano, which in ancient times had been famous for its point lace. The cardinal moved by the misery of its inhabitants, determined to revive the industry; but only one old woman remained who knew the art. A benevolent lady, persuaded to interest herself in the work, got the old woman to teach her, started a school of lace workers, and soon had six hundred girls in training. Clubs were started for young men and boys, not only here, but in many other parishes. There was no difficulty, no misery for which the patriarch did not try to find a cure. He had the art of giving without offending people whose decent appearance covered a poverty often more bitter in that it had to be hidden. He went one day to see a friend who had fallen on evil times, and who was in dire need of help. "I am so sorry," said the patriarch, "I have absolutely nothing left, but take this," giving him an exquisite ivory crucifix which had been given him as a present; "it is valuable, and will realize a good sum."
Although unflinchingly firm in everything that concerned the faith and the rights of the Church, the frank courtesy of Patriarch Sarto and his conciliating spirit kept him always on good terms with the government. He bade his priests and people respect all lawfully constituted authority, recognizing that "the powers that be are ordained of God." "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's," he would often say. When King Humbert of Italy was assassinated he ordered that a requiem should be sung for him in St. Mark's; and when the widowed queen came to Venice for rest and change of air, he visited and consoled her with the most heartfelt sympathy. "The restoration of society in Christ is the only cure for all the world's evils," he would constantly repeat. "No good is good which is not rooted and founded in Christ." He had the gift of inspiring others and rallying them to his own charitable schemes, filling them with a fire and energy like his own.
The 14th of July, 1902, was a day of grief for Venice. The great campanile of St. Mark's, which had stood for centuries watching over the glories of the City of the Sea, crumbled and fell in ruins. The universal lamentations were changed, by order of the patriarch, into thanksgivings that no one had been injured, and that the cathedral itself had not suffered. The reconstruction of the campanile was immediately determined on, and on the 25th of April, 1903, the feast day of the evangelist and patron saint of Venice, the first stone was laid. The square of St. Mark was a sea of heads; every window and balcony was crowded. The Duke of Turin, a prince of the house of Savoy, was present as the representative of the king, who had contributed generously to the reconstruction fund. The cardinal stood opposite him. Church and state were face to face, with the memory of all that had passed since the beginning of the Italian Revolution between them. Was conciliation possible? It might have seemed that day that it was in charity and justice lay the solution. The cardinal's tact and courtesy on this occasion, as on so many others, put everybody at ease, and his discourse won the admiration of all.
"It is a good and beautiful thing," he said, "for men to ask God's blessing on their work. The genius of Oman is at its highest when it bows before the Light Eternal. I rejoice, therefore, with you, most noble representatives of Venice, that, as faithful interpreters of public opinion, you have decided that the rebuilding of our beloved campanile must be inaugurated with a solemn act of religious worship. I rejoice that you have shown yourselves worthy sons of your Venetian forefathers, who, knowing well that 'unless the Lord build the house, their labour is in vain that build it,' began no enterprise without asking God's blessing and the protection of His Virgin Mother in their work." After having shown that all the glory of medieval Venice sprang from her faith and her religion, he turned to the Duke of Turin and the other illustrious guests with a word of thanks for their presence. "A man of personal fascination and splendid presence," wrote a member of the French government who was there, "with handsome open face and strong clear-cut features, softened by eyes in which shines the light of perpetual youth. Nothing proud about him, nothing obsequious, his manner with the Duke of Turin was perfect, that of a man who is completely at his ease."
Prince of the Church as he was, he was always ready to fulfill the duties of a simple parish priest. He would carry holy communion to the sick, hear confessions, give retreats in the churches of the diocese, and visit the prisons, the hospitals and the reformatories, preaching
to their inmates and comforting all their sorrows. The religious orders were amongst the most favoured of his children; he was always ready to visit them on their feast days, and loved and esteemed their work. Both saint and sinner found in him a kindly strength and simple goodness which set them at their ease at once. The very sight of his face was a welcome; there was no affectation of piety or austerity which might repel or frighten anyone; no one could feel stiff or awkward in his presence, all shyness and reserve gave way before his gentle manner.
An intimate friend of the cardinal, who was staying with him, asked one day if he might celebrate Mass at an early hour next morning, as he had to catch a train. "Why not?" was the answer, "I will see that all is ready for you."
What was the astonishment of the priest when he went to the cardinal's private chapel at an early hour to find his host himself preparing for the Mass. "But who will serve?" asked the celebrant.
"I," answered the cardinal very simply.
"Eminence!" protested his guest, quite aghast at the suggestion.
"What!" he exclaimed, smiling, "do you imagine that a prelate of my rank does not know how to serve Mass? A fine idea you have of the princes of the Church!"
He hated ostentation of any kind and would often travel about the country incognito. He was going one day to the convent of the Sisters of Charity at Crespano when, feeling sure that at Bassano, where he had to get out, there would be an ovation, he wrote to a friend telling him that two Venetian priests going to Crespano who did not know the country would be glad if a carriage could be sent to meet them at the station. The train arrived, and the two priests made their way to a ramshackle little carriage which was standing outside. The friend, who was waiting to do the honours to the cardinal's priests, came forward eagerly, and was just about to greet the elder of the two when he recognized the patriarch. "Your Eminence!" he stammered, utterly taken aback; but the cardinal, finger on lips in warning, jumped into the carriage followed by his companion, and drove away. Little did he guess that the time was close at hand when his desire to be unnoticed could nevermore be fulfilled, when he who loved to take the lowest place was to be obliged to take the highest in the world.