John Paul II: WWII was a "hour of darkness"


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ROME, AUG. 27, 2009 ( World War II was "one of the most devastating and inhuman tragedies of our history," said John Paul II in his letter marking the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the war, L'Osservatore Romano published the letter, signed Aug. 27, 1989, in today's Italian edition.

World War II lasted six years, beginning Sept. 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. The allied forces claimed victory Sept. 2, 1945.

In that letter, John Paul II, personal witness of that "hour of darkness," invited all men, especially Catholics, to a "profound reflection" on the causes that led to an "inhuman and cruel" war.

That conflict, the Pope stressed, led the world "to the abysses of inhumanity and desolation," to the destruction of entire cities and to the death of 55 million people, and it could be repeated if man does not draw a lesson from the past.

"Today we know from experience that the arbitrary division of nations, the forced deportation of peoples, unlimited rearmament, the uncontrolled use of sophisticated weapons, the violation of the fundamental rights of individuals and peoples, the lack of observation of the rules of international conduct and the imposition of totalitarian ideologies can only lead to the ruin of humanity," he warned.

The Pontiff made an appeal for disarmament, for collaboration between nations and for respect for the rights of individuals and peoples.

The "victory of law" continues to be the best guarantee for the respect of persons, the Holy Father stated. "Now, when we return to those six terrible years, we cannot but be justly horrified by the contempt of which man was the object."


Of all the horrors of World War II, John Paul II made special mention of the Holocaust, which he said "will always remain as a scandal for humanity."

He explained: "Object of the 'final solution,' thought out by an aberrant ideology, the Jews were subjected to privations and brutalities that are difficult to describe. Persecuted initially through vexatious and discriminatory measures, the latter finally ended up in the extermination camps.

"I wish to repeat forcefully here that hostility and hatred against Judaism are in complete contradiction with the Christian vision of man's dignity."

Man without God

The Pope also noted other causes for the war, apart from the direct one, which included a tendency to neglect God and to substitute religion with totalitarian ideologies.

"Already much earlier than 1939, in certain sectors of European culture, there was a will to erase God and his image from man's horizon," he said. "Young people, from the earliest age, were beginning to be indoctrinated in this sense."

The Pontiff reflected that although "no period of humanity has escaped the risk of man's closed withdrawal into himself, in an attitude of proud sufficiency," this risk "has been accentuated in this century in the measure that the force of arms, science and technology have been able to give contemporary man the illusion of becoming the only master of nature and history."

The Holy Father warned against "the abandonment of reference to God and the transcendent moral law."

"The moral abyss, in which contempt for God -- and hence for man -- plunged the world 50 years ago, makes us feel the power of the Prince of this world, who can seduce consciences with lies, with contempt for man and the law, with the worship of power and of force."

In this connection, John Paul II pointed out that "in many realms of his existence, modern man thinks, lives and works as if God did not exist. Herein lies the same danger of yesterday."

Pius XII's action

In another section, the Pontiff recalled the action of the Holy See during the War, especially that of Pius XII.

"Not having been able to avoid the War, the Holy See tried -- within the limits of its means -- to limit its extension. The Pope and his collaborators worked incessantly for it," the letter stated.

John Paul II underlined the Church's total neutrality, "both at the diplomatic level as well as in the humanitarian field, without allowing herself to be drawn to be aligned with one side or the other, in a conflict that opposed peoples of different ideologies and religions."

Specifically, he recalled Pius XII's concern "not to aggravate the situation of peoples subjected to uncommon trials," quoting his words in regard to the suffering of the Polish people.

John Paul II also recalled that "the new paganism and the systems linked to it were certainly bitter against the Jews, but were also directed against Christianity, whose teaching had formed Europe's soul."

"The Catholic Church in particular also felt the passion, before and during the conflict," the Pope said, recalling finally "the numerous witnesses, known or unknown, who -- in those hours of tribulation -- had the courage to profess the faith intrepidly, who were able to stand up against the atheist choice and did not bow to force."