Friday, October 13, 2023

Pope Francis remembers Pope Pius VII as ambassador of peace


Jacques-Louis-David's portrait of Pope Pius VIIJacques-Louis-David's portrait of Pope Pius VII 

Pope Francis: Pius VII was an 'ambassador of peace'

In a letter marking 200 years since the death of Pope Pius VII, Pope Francis praises his predecessor for the “great wisdom” he displayed in his struggle with the Emperor Napoleon.

By Joseph Tulloch

Pope Pius VII, the 19th-century pontiff best known for his struggle with the Emperor Napoleon, died two hundred years ago this August. 

To mark the occasion, Pope Francis has written a letter to the bishop of Cesena-Sarsina, Pope Pius’ VII diocese of origin.

Relationship with Napoleon

The main theme of the message is Pius VII’s “competence and prudence” in his dealings with Napoleon.

The Italian Pope sought to dialogue with the French Emperor – who had already imprisoned his predecessor – signing a Concordat with him in 1801. Only after Napoleon invaded the Papal States did he retaliate by excommunicating him.

The Emperor took Pope Pius prisoner and transported him to France, but he was freed five years later after Napoleon's military defeat.

Together with his right-hand-man Cardinal Consalvi, he was known for his flexible approach to diplomacy, seeking a middle way between the principles of the French Revolution and the traditions of the papacy.  

In his letter, Pope Francis says that “if we consider the historical period in which Pope Pius VII lived, we cannot but note the great wisdom with which he knew how to be an 'ambassador of peace'.”

“Faced with a contentious political scenario,” the Pope continues, “he did everything he could to not fail in his mission as guardian and guide of the flock” – a task he carried out “according to the spirit of the Beatitudes, which says that peacemakers are children of God.”


Pope Francis also praises “the evangelical boldness with which [Pope Pius] endured difficult trials during the twenty-three years of his pontificate.”

The Italian Pope’s initially good relationship with Napoleon soon soured, and he was eventually imprisoned. He responded, writes Pope Francis, with “exemplary docility, offering everything to the Lord for the good of the Church.”

It is said that after Napoleon was defeated and imprisoned,  Pope Pius became concerned for his wellbeing, asking his British captors to treat him with lenience.

Pius as Bishop

Pope Francis also has warm words for Pope Pius’ work as a pastor, calling him a man of "humanity and mercy."

Before his election to the papacy, Pius had been the bishop of two dioceses, Tivoli and Imola.

As a pastor, writes Pope Francis, he “distinguished himself by his charisma and goodness of heart".

“In fact, during the years of his episcopal ministry, he did not hesitate to devote himself to the care of the people, dedicating himself to alleviating the many sufferings of those afflicted by precarious conditions."

The Pope concludes his letter by entrusting the faithful of Cesena-Sarsina, the Diocese of Pope Pius' birth, with the task of communicating his life, "so that it might inspire the same passion for the service of others and the building of a harmonious society."

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