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|A Testimony for the Beatification of Pius IX|
The beatification of Pope Pius IX last 23 September 2000 was overshadowed in the media by controversies about his life, especially in regards to the saga of Father Edgardo Mortara. Father Mortara was born to Jewish parents but baptized without their knowledge, and eventually raised under the Pope’s auspices. The case triggered a firestorm of controversy in 19th-century Italy. Following are excerpts from Father Mortara’s testimony, used during the beatification process. The text is that of the Positio super Introductione Causae, published in Italian in 1954. The section titles are taken from the Latin marginal notes added by the relator, Cardinal Federico Tedeschini. Father Mortara was the 27th witness called for the beatification process.
by Father Edgardo Levi-Mortara
§1652: Name of the witness
My name was Edgardo Levi-Mortara in lay life, and Pio Maria in religious life. I was born in Bologna to Salomone and Marianna Padovani on August 27, 1851. At age 13, I entered as an aspirant in the Canons Regular of St. Peter in Chains; I was admitted to novitiate on October 6, 1866, at St. Agnes Outside the Walls. I pronounced simple vows in that basilica on November 17, 1867. I later made my solemn profession in the parish of Nova Cella [Neuzelle] in the Austrian Tyrol, near Bressanone, on December 31, 1871. I have taught sacred and profane science both in Italy and abroad, but I have especially dedicated myself to preaching in various languages.
§1653: Witness was born to a Jewish family and baptized by a Catholic servant.
I was born to Jewish parents. At the age of about sixteen months, I was taken by a serious illness—neuritis—which had severely reduced my strength. The doctor, who is now dead, I believe, classified my case as “most serious.” When the maid, Anna Morisi, a good Christian girl of 16 or 18 years, whom my parents retained in their service despite the laws of the Pontifical State at the time, heard about the danger, she decided to baptize me.1 In the moment when my mother had left me alone in the cradle, she came up with a bit of water and baptized me by sprinkling, pronouncing the sacramental formula. After this act, my mother arrived without knowing anything about it. All of these details are laid out in the documents annexed to the Process [for the removal of Mortara from his family] held in Bologna in 1859 by Father Gaetano Feletti, who was president of the tribunal of the Holy Inquisition of Bologna, before the annexation of Romagna into the kingdom of Italy.
§1654: Witness was brought to the Servant of God on June 24, 1858.2
The facts were kept absolutely secret by Morisi, who was surprised by my rapid recovery. Six years later, one of my younger brothers, named Aristide, fell gravely ill. When Morisi was asked by a friend to baptize the child “in extremis,” she refused to do so, giving as a reason the fact that I had lived on after Baptism, and thus the secret was revealed. When the news of my baptism became known to the ordinary ecclesiastical authority, this body determined that the case was too serious to be in their competence and referred it directly to the Roman Curia. Thus as a result of the process (and I don’t know of another), the Holy Father, through a Roman congregation, charged Feletti to separate me from my family. This took place, with the aid of civil authorities, that is, the officers of the Inquisition, on June 24, 1858.
The officers took me to Rome and presented me to His Holiness Pius IX, who received me with great kindness and declared himself my adoptive father, which he really was, even taking care of my education and securing my future. He entrusted me to Canon Enrico Sarra, rector of the Institute of Neophytes at St. Mary of the Mountains, directed by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart.
§1655: The remaining Baptismal ceremonies were completed, omitting the infusion of water.
A few days after my arrival in Rome, I received religious instruction, and the Baptismal ceremonies were completed by Cardinal Ferretti, nephew of His Holiness. This led some into a historical error: that I had been baptized in Rome after my separation from the family—as narrated by De Cesare in one of his works.
§1656: The parents made a great effort to have their child again.
Eight days later, my parents presented themselves to the Institute of Neophytes to initiate the complex procedures to get me back in the family. As they had complete freedom to see me and talk with me, they remained in Rome for a month, coming every day to visit me. Needless to say, they tried every means to get me back—caresses, tears, pleas and promises. Despite all this, I never showed the slightest desire to return to my family, a fact that I do not understand myself, except by looking at the power of supernatural grace.
At this point, I will tell a story that shows the power of this grace. After serving Mass in Alatri for Canon Vincenzo Sarra (in whose home I was staying), upon returning to the sacristy with the priest, my parents suddenly appeared at the door. Instead of throwing myself in their arms, as would have been natural, I retreated, quite surprised, hiding under the priest’s chasuble. Because of this event, the people of Alatri were incensed at my parents, and the bishop thought it best to host me in his palace for eight days and also to avoid abduction by my parents. They became convinced of the uselessness of their efforts and thought it more prudent to return to Bologna.
§1657: On December 8, 1858,
the witness went to the
school of St. Peter in Chains.
The Holy Father Pius IX, as I heard him say, wanted to entrust me to the Jesuits, placing me in the school for the nobility, but after considering the case better, put me into the school of St. Peter in Chains on the Esquiline hill, directed by the Lateran Canons Regular, so as not to give the secular press an excuse for controversy. I was taken there by Rector Sarra on December 8, 1858. I was then presented to His Holiness for the Christmas festivities, as was always done afterward, since it was my duty to give the most filial thanks to the Pontiff for the gifts that he regularly sent me, and for the many open signs of paternal benevolence.
§1658: The Servant of God
showed great care for the witness.
Every month he sent a Pontifical employee to bring the sum of thirty escudos for my upkeep. He always showed me the most fatherly demonstrations of affection, wise and very useful lessons, and, blessing me tenderly, he often told me that I had cost him many pains and tears. When he met me in a hallway, he called to me. Like a good father he also played with me, hiding me under his big red cloak and then jokingly asking where the boy was. Then he would remove the cloak and show me to those nearby, “There he is!”
§1659: The enemies of the Church spread many calumnies.
In the meantime, in the media in Europe, and you could say throughout the world, a great uproar was raised over the abduction of the Mortara boy, which became as famous as the “rape of the Sabine women.”
In small groups, villages and cafes no one talked about anything else, and finally in Royal Theater of Paris, a tragedy was staged, entitled “Le petit Mortara.” The Jewish community of Alessandria (Piedmont) appealed to all the synagogues of the world and organized a real campaign against the Pope and the Roman Church, consulting the political powers and asking them to intervene and protest diplomatically. In fact, protests were sent; the violent and passionate controversy that united all the enemies of the Papacy and the Roman Church lasted six months.
§1660: But he was asleep.
There was no lack of valiant souls, however, in the Catholic camp, who defended the magnanimous Pius IX with heroic courage and admirable constancy—he himself said in the midst of that furious tempest that, like our Divine Redeemer, he slept calmly: “Ipse vero dormiebat.”
§1661: The Servant of God
I found myself at his holy feet in various circumstances, particularly after the solemn Te Deum that was sung each year on April 12 in the Basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls in thanksgiving for the miraculous preservation of his life, which was in great danger. Once I presented His Holiness my feelings of filial devotion with a poetic composition, and Pius IX recalled the famous incident concerning me with energetic and moving words. “My son,” he said, “you are very dear to me, and I have suffered greatly for you.”
Then, turning to those around him, he added these exact words: “The great and small wanted to take this child from me, accusing me of being barbaric and merciless. They lament for his parents and do not think that I too am a father. No one sympathizes with me in the midst of painful trials, while in Russia they violently abduct so many of my children (my dear Poles).” He concluded, “I had the right and duty to do what I did for this boy, and if it were necessary, I would do it again.”
I recall a very characteristic greeting of the Servant of God. When he saw me kneeling with my friends, he said, smiling, “At your service, Mortara.” And it was really a true service that was done for me by that man, who officially called himself “Servus servorum Dei.”
§1662: The Servant of God
was most interested
in the progress of the witness
in knowledge and holiness.
Pius IX always had the interest of a father in my progress in piety and studies. I already mentioned that every time I was presented to him, he never failed to present me very useful lessons. When I was a young student he was pleased one day to have me translate some passages from Italian to Latin and vice versa. He approved my decision to enter into the Order of the Canons Regular of the Lateran while I was still quite young, and happily permitted me to take his name. “We hope,” he said to the general director of the order, “that we will have another Father Pio.” (He was referring to the Passionist Father Pio, who had died a few years before, in an air of sanctity.) When I was presented to him after professing simple vows, he reminded me that St. Francis de Sales compared monasteries to hospitals, in which there are three classes of persons: the sick, the convalescent and the healthy. He exhorted me to belong to the third class.
§1663: Sweet penances.
He even wanted to carry out the role of Master of Novices, making me practice humility and mortification. On March 11, 1868, in the Basilica of St. Gregory on Mount Celio, I was with my religious brothers for the first vespers of the feast of that great doctor, when we heard the sound of all the bells, and the arrival of His Holiness was announced. I prostrated myself with my companions on the floor of the basilica, and when the Holy Father passed by, I wanted to kiss his feet. I butted into his knee with my forehead in my youthful exuberance with such force that the Holy Father lost his balance and was about to fall, had not a domestic prelate supported him. At the moment, the Pope was content to fix his gaze on me. When he arrived at the so-called triclinium where St. Gregory served the poor, he gently addressed me: “But, what have you done today? It would be beautiful if they went away saying that Mortara wanted to kill the Pope, after he wanted only the best for him. Now you will have to do penance. Kiss the floor.” Which I did promptly. “That is not enough,” His Holiness added, “make three crosses with your tongue.” When he saw my blind obedience, he turned to those around him with a graceful smile. “Look,” he said, “how he obeys. The religious of today take vows of obedience!” Then he blessed me, saying to me more or less these words, “Next time, be more careful!” I note that such penances were very common in the schools and colleges, even for minor faults.
§1664: The witness fled
from the snares of the liberals.3
The fatherly care of the Holy Father was particularly revealed on the occasion of the political events of 1870. After the Piedmont troops entered into Rome in those days of anarchy that preceded the forming of the new government, a mob that the police was unable to control turned toward St. Peter in Chains to abduct me, after having already torn the neophyte Coen from the school of the Piarists. However, providentially, this did not take place. Pius IX, worried about my fate, asked several times if I had been taken out of Rome. When he was then informed of my escape, he said these exact words, “We thank the Lord that Mortara has escaped.”
Pius IX’s blessing accompanied me in everything. Most of all, it gave me the strength and the courage not to give in to the injunctions and threats of the liberal authorities, who wanted to force me, despite my religious vows, to return to my family, exposed to the danger of perjuring myself or even becoming an apostate. In fact, Mr. Berti, prefect of the police, came to St. Peter in Chains, scolding me and asking me to satisfy the public, which was irritated by the “excesses of the theocratic power,” by returning to my family. I observed that it wasn’t the place for such satisfaction, since I had just given my father [who was at that time] in Rome all the proofs of most tender filial affection. “Be that as it may,” responded the prefect, “for your own good and for that of your community, I command you to return to your family.”
§1670: The Servant of God entrusted the witness
to Bishop Pie.
The fatherly affection of Pius IX toward me remained unchanged until death. After the suppression of the religious houses, he sent me at once to the famous and holy bishop of Poitiers, Luigi Eduardo Pie, who died in 1880. (He was created a cardinal by Leo XIII in 1879.) To fulfill the desires of the Holy Father, he conceived of the project of a foundation in his diocese, which he then carried out in 1873. Pius IX sent the bishop a letter of congratulations, in which he expressed, among other things, his satisfaction in knowing that his adoptive son was now in that diocese.
§1671: When the witness
became a priest, the Servant of God was very pleased.
Often during the ad limina visits of that bishop, the Supreme Pontiff asked about the progress of his protégé and when he would be a priest. When the bishop responded that I was still quite young, Pius IX said, “Well then, we will concede him a good dispensation for age.” In fact, when this question was addressed, I did receive a dispensation of twenty months.
As I was suffering from weakness of nerves due to too much work, I was forced to leave aside all activity and dedicate myself to physical exercises. This was a great trial for me. When Pius IX heard of this from Bishop Pie, he sent me his special blessing, exhorting me to patience and rest. On the happy day of my first Mass, he honored me with a personally signed letter, which I retain as a precious relic. In the letter, he expressed his satisfaction at seeing me ascend to the holy altar. He asked me to pray especially for him and to act to the limits of my strength for the glory of God and the good of souls.
§1672: St. Pius, pray for me.
As a capstone to his fatherly benevolence toward me, Pius IX left me a lifetime pension of 300 lire a year out of his private funds. The capital of this pension, that is, 7,000 lire, was given to the head of my order by His Holiness Leo XIII. I never saw Pius IX again.
After 1878, on many of my visits to the Eternal City, I went to Campo Verano cemetery and, deeply moved, prostrated myself on the tomb of my august father and protector, toward whom my gratitude knows no limits, and whom I will always hold to be a wise and saintly Pontiff. In his epitaph he invites the faithful to pray for him: Orate pro eo. I confess that whenever I read those words, I said in my heart, Sancte Pie, ora pro me.
The information I have given up to now is personal. I will now provide other information learned orally from persons worthy of faith and in part also visually. I greatly desire the beatification and canonization of the Servant of God.
§1674: The Servant of God permitted many reforms
in his government
for the good of the people.
I have heard it said that the Servant of God was favorable toward the reforms demanded by the people at the beginning of his reign. It even seems that he gave a little too much, letting himself be flattered by the idea of the Italian Confederation with the Pope at its head; this was done, of course, with good intentions.
§1675: He opposed the evil intent of the liberals with all his force.
I have also heard it said that in our Basilica of St. Peter in Chains, the leaders of the liberal party, who hypocritically wanted to win the sympathies of the Pope by flattering him with false prospects, took part in a sumptuous banquet in a hotel before receiving the consecrated host from his hands. This was a bitter disillusionment that opened the eyes of the generous Pontiff. He was now a witness to the agitations of the liberals and was convinced that they, especially the members of the sect ‘Giovane Italia’ [Young Italy], had as their goal not only the unification of the Italian States and the exclusion of foreign influences, but also the taking of the lands of the Roman Republic and the ruin of the temporal power [of the Church], causing the loss of independence of the Roman Pontiff. At this point, he began to show intransigence toward them.
§1677: His enemies acted strongly against the Servant of God.
Concerning Pius IX’s relations with governments, what I can say is that Pius IX, when he made public the fact of my separation from my family, found himself involved in very serious diplomatic and official complications with France. As a confirmation of what I say, I can add the words that I heard from the very lips of General Latour, senior state official of Napoleon III.
I asked him, “How did the emperor express himself about my case?” He told me that the emperor said, “How is this possible? I keep my soldiers in Rome, and he does such ‘bêtises’ [stupidities] to me.”
§1678: The Servant of God was of strong spirit against his enemies.
As the celebrated controversialist Veuillot said, alluding to these complications, “The case of little Mortara was like a wooden shot launched to create conflict and a hardly honest pretext to accelerate the development of the Roman question.”
The syllogism was in fact obvious: The Mortara case would never have happened without the temporal power [of the Church]; therefore it is necessary to suppress this power. This was well known to the Pontiff, and it resulted in disrespectful scoldings and threats directed at him. Despite these, he remained firm and constant, occasionally repeating his sublime non possumus [we cannot], before which all human strength vanished.
In the end, this was the dilemma: “Either you return the boy or we cannot be responsible for the security of the Pope in his States.” I know that once, he shouted that not even all the bayonets in the world would force him to return the boy.
§1680: The Servant of God responded to Count Ponza
of San Martino in a spirited way.
I don’t know anything special about this event, except that I have heard it said that when His Excellency Count Ponza of San Martino—representing King Victor Emmanuel—came to the Pontiff to submit unacceptable conditions to the Pontiff, Pius IX expressed himself with highly energetic terms. He beat on the table with a snuff box, which then broke. The count left so confused that he appeared dizzy.
§1681: He resisted the persecutions of the Kulturkampf.
I don’t recall anything about the Kulturkampf except for one particularly graphic phrase of Pius IX: “I don’t care about Bismarck or Trismarck.”
§1682: For the glory of God,
death is sweet.
I retain that the Servant of God Pius IX always observed God’s commandments and the precepts of the Church, from the reputation he enjoyed as a man of God.
From the acts of his life, I believe that he was even a zealot for the glory of God and the good of souls. This is shown abundantly by what he did for me, facing difficulties and sorrows. At this point, I would also mention what I heard from the very lips of the Servant of God Bishop de Dreux-Bréjé of Moulins (now dead): “You should suffer anything rather than commit a grave sin, and it would have been a mortal sin to abandon this soul.”
§1684: He looked like an angel
I have read various discourses of the Servant of God that he gave after 1870, and I know that everyone admired them for their timeliness, for their strong sentiments of living confidence in God, and the zeal that filled them. I also saw the Servant of God pray various times at St. Agnes’ Basilica, showing an exterior composure and such piety that he looked like an angel. All eyes were fixed on him, and his eyes were continually and immovably fixed on the Blessed Sacrament. Once, when he came to St. Agnes to perform the usual rites on the anniversary of her death, I recall that the famous Cardinal De Andrea (titular of St. Agnes), who sympathized with the liberals, was beside him. The Pontiff never spoke a word to him, or even looked at him.
I recall another time when he administered First Communion to two girls. When he then came to lunch in the refectory of our monastery, he called the two girls and had them sit by his throne in the seats of the domestic prelates, where he gave them sweets.
When he recalled the political events in the Pontifical States, I saw that he was so moved that he cried. Concerning charity, which will be my next topic, it was generally said that he was kind.
§1685: The Servant of God
did much for the Jews.
Even my mother was convinced of his kindness. When she told me of her life and the efforts she made to get me back in her house, she said that if she had been able to obtain an audience with the Holy Father, she would have had her son back. She added, “Pius IX is so kind.”
Beyond his removal of the gates to the ghetto, I vaguely recall that the Servant of God also took away the requirement that the Jews had to carry an identity card or distinctive garb to make them recognizable as Jews.
The charity shown by the Servant of God toward the youths of the Institute of Tata Giovanni while he was still a priest is well known.
§1686: He spent a great deal
of money to rebuild churches.
Concerning his zeal for the worship of God, I mention the restorations he carried out in the Basilica and Monastery of St. Agnes. In the same way, he gave considerable funds for the crypt of St. Peter in Chains and the restoration of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, the Holy Staircase and perhaps also St. Maria in Trastevere.
Concerning the virtue of prudence, I can’t say anything in particular except to recall that it was surprising that he kept Cardinal Antonelli as Secretary of State, about whom unflattering rumors were circulating. I don’t know if those rumors had any serious foundation. It didn’t give a good impression that the Cardinal himself left nothing for the Holy See in his will.
§1687: Concerning the fortitude
of the Servant of God.
The Pontiff showed he was endowed with fortitude in the highest degree in my own case; in the reading that was done in his presence, or by him himself, against the enemies of the Church each year in the Vatican Basilica during the events that preceded the revolution of 1848; and in the protests he raised against the invaders of the Pontifical States and the persecuting governments of Germany, Switzerland and Russia.
§1688: Concerning the temperance of the Servant of God.
In general, I have never heard anything said against the virtue of temperance of the Servant of God. He only drank Bordeaux wine (Médoc) on the prescription of a doctor.
§1689: The figure of the
Servant of God.
In his comportment, he appeared majestic, without pretentious affectations. I had the opportunity to see him various times among the crowd that gathered around him to kiss his hand. He kept his gaze fixed forward, always seeming modest and detached, and seemed to dominate the multitude of people with his presence. The thing that most struck me was the general state of his appearance. His blue eyes reflected the beauty and purity of his soul and the profound tranquility of his heart. A truly angelic smile blossomed on his lips. Joined with his normally benevolent and fatherly words, this made his appearance almost superhuman.
He also had his humorous side, which was expressed in quips and plays upon words that were very opportune and made everyone laugh. Referring to his leg pains during the period when Gambetta was president of the French republic, he said, “So much is said about this Gambetta; as for me, a little bit more ‘gambetta’ [leg] wouldn’t do me any harm.”
Once when he was presented the French gentleman Mr. Forestier, a person of great merit and extreme charity, Pius IX took his arm and said to him with the most tender tone, “My son, in Rome there are no forastieri [foreigners]—they are all my children.”
At a public audience, he once noted a group of sisters whose faces were enclosed in very extended round bonnets, he said, “Whose faces are those at the end of those hallways?”
§1690: Meek and
at the same time strong.
Continuing on the virtue of temperance, I can say that the foundation of the Servant of God’s character was kindness, perhaps even excessive.
However, in certain circumstances, he showed great energy and vivacity, as when justice and duty were involved. In those cases, he may have appeared too severe. For example, he did not hesitate to impose an extremely hard penance on a Maronite Church dignitary, obliging him to kneel. I know this from the neighborly relationship between our priests of St. Peter in Chains and the Maronite religious. I also know from being in France that there they spoke publicly that he had treated the famous Bishop D’Arbois very harshly to bring him back in order and make him reflect on a few of his excesses in the exercise of his own episcopal duties.
I have never heard the Servant of God accused of a fault, however minor, against chastity.
§1692: Concerning the heroic fortitude of the Servant of God.
Concerning the heroic nature of the virtues of the Servant of God, I can affirm this for a few of the virtues. To wit, the fortitude that he showed by sustaining the rights of God and his Church at every cost and every risk, and the confidence in God that always animated him in the midst of the most serious dangers. As to the other virtues, I don’t have enough personal information to judge their degree. From the reputation that Pius IX enjoys, and from the whole of his fully extraordinary life, I can logically conclude, and so argue, that heroism also extends to the other virtues.
§1693: Two miraculous healings obtained by the intercession
of the Servant of God.
Concerning miracles worked during the life of the Servant of God, I know of two by their public fame.
The first was the restitution of sight to a woman when he asked her if she had faith. This happened in our Basilica of St. Agnes when he was present for the usual ceremonies of April 12, in about the year 1863-1864. This miracle was spoken about both within and outside the monastery; however, I was not an eyewitness to that miracle.
The other occurred in a nun of the Sacred Heart in the monastery of Trinità dei Monti in Rome [above the Spanish Steps]. This nun suffered from a wound on her hand, which was healed by contact with the image of the Servant of God printed on a coin. I heard about this prodigious occurrence in France.
§1694: The Servant of God’s reputation of sanctity is
very strong in France and Belgium.
I don’t know if he enjoyed a reputation of sanctity in life. After his death, I know that abroad, especially in France and Belgium, his memory is venerated, precisely for his virtues. This is the spontaneous feeling of the public.
§1695: The witness looks forward to the beatification of the
Servant of God with joy.
I don’t have anything more to add, take away, or change in my given deposition. I only want to add the following.
I am firmly convinced, not only by the deposition I have given, but by the entire life of my august protector and father, that the Servant of God is a saint. I have the almost instinctive conviction that one day he will be raised to the glory of the altars. For me it will be an intimate joy for my entire life and a great comfort in the hour of my death to have cooperated to the limits of my strength toward the success of this cause. I pray to God by the intercession of his Servant to have mercy on me and forgive my sins, and make me rejoice in his presence in Paradise.
1 Father Mortara’s mention of the “laws of the Pontifical State” refers to a law that prohibited Jewish families from hiring Christian household servants. The law was created specifically to avoid situations like Mortara’s.
2 “Servant of God” refers to Pius IX, who reigned as Pope from 1846-78. He convoked Vatican Council I in 1869, but it was cut short in 1870 when the forces of Victor Emmanuel took the city of Rome.
3 The “liberals” referred to in the text were the forces working for the unification of the Italian states and the dissolution of the Church’s temporal power
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