19 July 1943: US bombing of Rome and Ven. Pius XII’s visit to San Lorenzo

El Papa del Pueblo

From L’Osservatore Romano:

On 19 July 1943, the United States Air Force bombed Rome: 9,125 bombs fell from 690 airplanes with 930.30 metric tons of explosives, resulting in 1800 deaths. Egidio Picucci recalled that Monday, 70 years ago. “The scene facing the people when the explosions stopped, when the rumble of the airplanes, which in the waves that followed disrupted everything, began to muffle, aroused general disbelief. The city walls seemed like ragged backdrops of a stage carried away by the wind. The morale of the people was at rock bottom. No one expected an attack of that kind and everyone roamed, lost and silent, around the dusty streets filled with rubble. Rome, the Eternal City, was no more. In order to provide relief to the people’s distress, the providential news came in that the Pope was to visit San Lorenzo in the afternoon around 5:30 p.m. At that time people ran to the basilica, in front of which the people encircled him, speaking more with their eyes and tears than with their words. Pius XII was visibly moved and opened his arms as if to pull everyone closer to him and not let them go”.

L’Osservatore Romano recalled this tragic event and the two visits the Pope made to the wounded city following the two bombings. The second bombing took place on 13 August. “In a strictly private setting, without any escort (…) accompanied only by Mons. Giovanni Battista Montini, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, the Pontiff at 5:20 pm, after having received the first news on the extent of the disaster, left the Vatican to go as soon as possible bringing relief in person to the victims. Faced with many sad sights of destruction the Holy Father stopped the car for a long time and asked for news of the victims and the scope of the damage. His extremely pale face showed his inner pain. (…) With difficulty, in front of the ruined pronaos of the Temple, His Holiness was able to climb down while a wave of excitement erupted from everyone’s heart. Defying the impassable terrain, (…) he kneeled (…) inviting everyone to the Christian prayer for the victims”.

The bombs also caused incalculable damage to the historical-religious patrimony of the city, especially damaging the cemetary of Verano (even striking the tomb of Pope Pacelli’s family) and the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The basilica was subsequently rebuilt, beginning in 1946. The work was made possible thanks to the work in those difficult years of Giovanni Battista Montini, Richard Krautheimer and Fr Antonio Ferrua.

There is a movie about Ven. Pius XII called Under The Roman Sky.  One of you readers sent it to me from my wishlist.  It was pretty good and revealed both the pressures on Pius during the war and also what he and the Church did to protect the lives of many Jews.

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10 Responses to 19 July 1943: US bombing of Rome and Ven. Pius XII’s visit to San Lorenzo

  1. I’m watching that movie on Netflix even as I type (in between applying for suitable employment, having been made excess by ‘offshoring’ for the second time in a year).

    So, spirits lifted by a balanced and even-handed movie, getting people to return phone calls…prayers appreciated to Sts. Joseph, Jude, and Anthony in this particular quest…

  2. StJude says:

    Wow.. what a great picture!

    I will have to see this movie.

  3. Andrew says:

    A bit of historical background might be useful. Some (especially the young) might not understand why the bombing took place.

  4. pfreddys says:

    Just a historical note here: The Germans considered the cities of Rome, Florence and Chieti to be open cities and therefore took no bombardment against them; they also tried to save the monestary of Monte Casino by not occupying it but we bombed it anyway.
    My point here is not be a Hitler or Nazi lover but to say that we have to recognize the humanity of our enemys and admit in conjuction with this article that there were mistakes and atrocities committed on both sides.

  5. jflare says:

    FWIW, (perhaps not much) the US Air Force has never bombed Rome. In 1943, it would’ve been the US Army Air Force. Perhaps not important in some sense, but being a former Air Force officer myself….

    Tragic though the event may be been, I have little choice but to notice that war in general tends to be destructive. Economies and peoples may easily require decades to recover, assuming they ever do. I doubt if I’ll have a chance to see this movie–I’m way behind on other things–but I HAVE seen “The Scarlet and the Black”, which was quite interesting. I’m frequently interested in the “how” and “why” of things historical, not only the “what”. I find it quite intriguing to learn how the Church made it’s choices, especially during World War II.
    (Just curious: Did anyone refer to World War II AS “World War II” during its duration? Or did that designation come about later?)

  6. AgricolaDeHammo says:

    Not to go off on a tangent but the lead in that film James Cromwell just had a rather good interview with Matthew Lickona found here.

  7. Priam1184 says:

    @jflare I think the first use of the term “World War II” was in a magazine (which one I can’t remember at present) article in the Spring, 1939 about 4 or 5 months before the war even started. People knew something was coming after Hitler’s rape of what was left of Czechoslovakia cause Chamberlain to finally give up on appeasement and give his war guarantee to Poland at the end of March, 1939.

  8. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    Thank you, Priam1184, for your contribution. The entry of the US into the war came in the middle of Kindergarten, just before my 6th birthday; the Japanese surrender after atomic attack came before the opening of fourth grade, when I was 9 1/2. During the last year I had some awareness of what was going on – reelection of Roosevelt, crossing the Rhine, Soviets being in Berlin, etc., but of course no real understanding. It seems to me that at all times we thought we were engaged in “the second world war.” A rather intelligent and aware classmate, aged 7 or 8, once said (in school), “I know a war that was bigger than this one – the World War [i.e., the prewar name for what we call the First World War].” The teacher said, more or less, “This IS the world war,” and we thought he (the child student) was sort of behind the times. So for what it is worth, I believe the 1939-1945, US 1941-1945 war was called at the time in the US the “Second World War.” Certainly I have no recollection (and after 1945 I think my recollection is pretty reliable, however at the time naive) of “Second World War” being proposed as a name for what had just transpired.

  9. mbrose says:

    The picture of Pius XII and the people of Rome is used as the cover photo of the last volume of Warren H. Carroll’s History of Christendom series.


  10. Eraser says:

    I saw that movie on EWTN a few weeks ago & thought it was well done, although the romantic aspect (courtship of the young Jewish couple) took up far too much of it. James Cromwell was excellent in the role, and they captured this scene beautifully.

    I started reading Rychlak’s book, “Hitler, The War & The Pope” and I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to know more about the truly heroic Pius XII – and see how a lawyer dismantles the flimsy arguments of certain writers who perpetuate the shameful defamation of the Holy Father.