The Old Pope and Papal Prestige

In February 1922, there was a new pope: Pius XI. The man born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti would serve for 17 years and lead Vatican City’s creation as a sovereign state in 1929, separate from Italy.

This New York Times Magazine article wrote in February 1922 of the new pope, comparing and contrasting him with his just-deceased predecessor:

Benedict was less understood but better liked than Pius. In a Roman society, both ecclesiastical and secular, that loves a diplomat better than anything on earth, and an aristocrat next to a diplomat, the combination of the two is irresistible! Yet Rome, outside of the officials of his household, knew no more of the Pope than New York knew of him. He was more retiring than Popes must be by the restrictions of circumstance, but he went about his business — his business of knowing this rent and ragged world, of patching it up and drawing the seams together by small stitches wherever he could, of strengthening always the power of that spiritual kingdom which he ruled — with a skill and imperturbable concentration.

If the new Pope is as skillful as the last, the “Roman question,” which at present seems to bar non-Italians from the supreme office in the Catholic church, may be [dead].

In 1978, the Polish John Paul II would become the first non-Italian pope in 456 years — still several decades and five more popes after Pius XI, though. The current pontiff, Francis, is Argentinian, the first-ever pope of that nationality.

Fun fact: the first pope to visit the U.S. wouldn’t come until Paul VI made the trip in 1965.

The Old Pope and Papal Prestige

Published: Sunday, February 12, 1922

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