Sacro Vergente Anno
Editor’s Note: On the occasion of the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slav countries, Pope Pius XII answered the request of consecrating Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the opening paragraphs, the Pope alludes firstly to the birth of the Church in Ukraine and Russia. The remainder of the letter is directed primarily to the people of Russia, Catholics and Orthodox alike, along with those laboring under the error of atheistic communism. We are publishing large excerpts from the remaining parts of the letter.
Admirable Page of Generosity
[Editor’s Note: Pius XII is referring to relations between the Roman and Russian churches.]
Meanwhile, because of the multiplicity of adverse circumstances such as, on the one hand, the difficulty of communication and, consequently, the more difficult, the union of minds, this in general, however, should not be attributed to the Slav people and certainly not to our predecessors, who always manifested a paternal love to these populations and, when possible, took care to sustain and help them in every way. Until 1448, there were no public documents declaring the separation of your church from the Apostolic See.
We omit many other historical documents in which the benevolence of our predecessors was manifested towards your nation, but we must briefly mention the actions of the sovereign pontiffs Benedict XV and Pius XI when, after the first European conflict and especially in the southern part of your country, a huge number of men, women, and innocent children were struck by a terrible famine and in extreme misery. These popes in fact, moved by a paternal affection towards your compatriots, sent to these populations food, clothes, and the many funds received from the entire Catholic family, to be offered to these hungry and unhappy souls in order to alleviate in some way their calamities.
And our predecessors provided, according to their own possibilities, not only for the material necessities, but also spiritual ones…they wished that public prayers be added for your religious condition which had become so perturbed and vexed by the deniers and enemies of God[.]…Thus, the Sovereign Pontiff Pius XI in 1930 established that, on the Feast of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, “there be common prayers in the Vatican Basilica for the unfortunate condition of the religion in Russia[.]”…[I]n the solemn consistorial allocution, Pius XI exhorted all with these words: “It is necessary to pray to Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, so that the peace and the liberty to profess the Faith be restored to the unfortunate faithful of Russia. And we wish that the prayers, which our predecessor of happy memory Leo XIII impressed on priests to be recited after Mass along with the people, to be recited for this intention, that is for Russia; let the bishops and the priests, both regular and secular, with all care, try to inculcate this and often remind their faithful or whoever attends the holy Mass.”
Impartiality of the Sovereign Pontiff
We willingly confirm and renew this exhortation and this command, since the religious situation among you [in Russia], in the present moment, is certainly not any better, and because we feel animated with the same vivid affection and the same care.
When the last tremendous and long conflict broke out [World War II], we had done everything in our power, with words, exhortations, and actions to heal the disputes by means of an equal and just peace, and so that all nations, without distinction of race, be united amicably and fraternally, and likewise, collaborate to gain a greater prosperity.
Never, even in that time, there came from our mouth a word which could seem unjust or bitter towards any one part of the belligerents. Certainly, we had reproved, as it was our duty, whatever injustice and whichever violation of law then occurring; but we did this in such a way as to avoid with all diligence anything which could become, even unjustly, the cause of a greater affliction for the oppressed nations. And when, from any section, pressure was made on us in any way, in word or in writing, to approve the war against Russia in 1941, we never consented to do this. This we expressed clearly on February 25, 1946 in the discourse held before the Sacred College and the entire Diplomatic Corps attached to the Holy See.
For the Liberty of Souls and for Justice
When it is a question of defending the cause of religion, of truth, of justice, and of the Christian City, certainly we cannot be silent. Our thoughts and our intentions have always returned to the truth that nations are not governed by the violence of weapons, but by the majesty of justice; and each of these, in possession of the proper civil and religious liberty…be led towards concord, peace, and that laborious life, by which all citizens can obtain the things necessary for life, housing, sustenance, and government of their own families.
Our most ardent charity included all nations, including those in which the leaders had professed to be enemies of the Apostolic See, and also those in which the deniers of God ousted fiercely all that was Christian and divine, and almost deleted it from the minds of the citizens. In fact, by a mandate of Jesus Christ, who entrusted the entire flock of the Christian people to St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles (Jn. 21:15-17)—of whom we are the unworthy successors—we love with intense love all nations and we wish to procure the earthly prosperity and eternal salvation of all.
Therefore, all of them, whether in armed conflict or at peace between themselves, in disagreements and serious disputes, are considered by us as so many beloved children; we desire nothing else, we request nothing else from God with our prayers than their mutual concord, just and true peace, and an ever increasing prosperity. And, if some, deceived by lies and calumnies, profess open hostility in our regard, we are animated towards them with a greater commiseration and with a more ardent affection.
Condemnation of Error and Charity Towards Those in Error
Doubtlessly, we have condemned and rejected—as the duty of our office demanded it—the errors and the leaders of atheistic communism and their endeavor to propagate great loss and ruin for their citizens. But to those in error, far from rejecting them, we wish that they return to the truth and be redirected to the right path. We have thus shown light on these lies and reproved them. These lies were often presented under the false appearance of truth. We reprove those in error because we love them with a paternal will and we wish their happiness. In fact, we have the firm certitude that, from these errors, you can derive only the greatest damage, because they not only take away from your souls the supernatural light and the supreme comforts which come from piety and the worship of God, but they deprive you of the human dignity and of the just liberty due to citizens.
Powerful Protection of the Mother of God
We know that many among you preserve the Christian Faith in the intimate sanctuary of your own conscience, who in no way favor the enemies of religion, but rather desire ardently to profess Christian teachings, the only and secure foundations of the civil life, not only in private but also openly as free persons. And we know also, with our greatest hope and great comfort, that you love and honor with a most ardent affection the Virgin Mary Mother of God, and that you venerate her sacred images. We know that, in the Kremlin itself, a temple was built—today, however, no longer a place for divine worship—dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Assumed into Heaven. This is just one very clear testimony of the love that your forefathers and yourselves bear towards the great Mother of God.
However, we know that the hope of salvation comes when the souls turn with sincerity and ardent piety towards the Most Holy Mother of God. In fact, the more impious and powerful men endeavor to destroy from the hearts of citizens holy religion and Christian virtue, the more Satan intends to promote with any means this sacrilegious struggle according to the Apostle of the gentiles: “...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and Powers, against the Dominations of the world of darkness...” (Eph. 6:12). Yet, if Mary applies her powerful protection, the gates of hell will not be able to prevail. In fact, she is the most benign and powerful Mother of God, and never was it heard in the world that anyone who had recourse to her with supplications did not experience her most powerful intercession.
Persevere, thus, as is your custom, to venerate her with fervent piety, to love her ardently, and to invoke her with these words, which are familiar to you: “To you alone has been granted, most holy and pure Mother of God, to have your prayers answered always.”
Fervent Appeal for Peace
Along with you, we raise our supplication, so that Christian truth, beauty, and support for human life be strengthened and invigorated among the peoples of Russia. Moreover, we pray that all the deceits of the enemies of religion, all their errors and their perfidious arts, be rejected by you so that your private and public lives may once again conform to evangelical norms. We pray that those among you who profess the Catholic Faith, although deprived of your pastors, may resist with great strength against the assaults of impiety until death….We pray that true liberty first be given back to the Church which holds the divine command of teaching all men religious truth, and that virtue shines in your most beloved nation and on all mankind. And we pray that the peace founded upon justice and nourished by charity may lead all nations happily to that common prosperity of peoples and nations which derives from the mutual concord of souls.
May Our most benign Mother look with benevolent eyes upon those who have even joined the ranks of militant atheism….May she illumine their minds with the light which comes from above, and direct with the divine grace their hearts to salvation.
Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart
And therefore we, in order that Our and your prayers may be more easily answered, and in order to give you a special attestation of our benevolence, likewise a few years ago, We consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mother of God, so now, in a very special way, consecrate all peoples of Russia to the very same Immaculate Heart, in the safe confidence that with the extremely powerful protection of the Virgin Mary, the wishes expressed by us, by you and by every good person for true peace, for fraternal concord and due freedom for everyone and for the Church in the first place, may be answered as soon as possible; in such a manner that, through the prayer that We send up to heaven together with you and all Christians, the reign of Christ, harbinger of salvation, which is “kingdom of truth and life, kingdom of sainthood and grace, kingdom of justice, of love and of peace,” may triumph and steadily consolidate itself everywhere on earth.”
And with fervent invocation we pray the same most clement Mother, that she assist all of you in the present calamity and obtain from her Divine Son and for your minds that light which comes from Heaven, and beg for your souls that virtue and strength, by which, supported with divine grace, you may victoriously conquer all impiety and error.