Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In memory of what the Church has done.....


This describes the reverse on the Pius 1945 Papal Medal: the land is empty, there are two figures on each side, walking or praying, and in the center a scene reminiscent of the Pieta shows an older bearded man about to give a wounded or starving man a drink. Part of the scene is a farm, and a horse looks out. One is reminded of the Sermon on the Mount--tend to the sick, bury the dead but the presence of the small farm suggests a mustard seed of reconstruction and even a peaceful future.

This and six stamps in a Prisoners of War Series show at least ten prisoners--men, women, and children--facing a luminous portrait of Christ who is in front of them, presumably in the sky. The blood red and the sepia stamps are especially unsettling.

There has been an ongoing controversy about Pius XII: did he stand up enough to the Nazis? Did he do enough when he found out about the extermination of Jewish prisoners? These historical debates cannot be answered here. But the stamps are tangible proofs of concern shown by the Church. I suspect these stamps and their meaning will become more important in the future, as those born in 1980 and beyond will lack the direct awareness of World War II that came from relatives, community members, and movies and newsreels. All of these made a deep imprint on the children and grandchildren of what Tom Browkaw has called “the Greatest Generation.”

To Remind us of War and to Work for Peace is a Papal Medal coming to us from 450 years ago. Pope Pius IV worked for a peaceful alliance between King Phillip and Spain. He is probably best remembered for his decision to reconvene the Council of Trent, which brought together, systematized, and declared the theology and rubrics of the Church. These would be looked at again when Pope John XXIII called together the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Standing in the center of the obverse of the medal is Lady Liberty, aiming her torch at the weapons of war as she destroys them. She is surrounded by a pile of helmets, swords, battle axes, and shields, and they are soon to be consumed by the conflagration.
Ironically, the next Pope would form an alliance with Venice and Spain and lead a crusade against the Turks.

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