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Pope remembers Pius VII, a man of communion in difficult times

Pope Francis invites Italian pilgrims from the Dioceses of Cesena-Sarsina, Savona, Imola and Tivoli Pope Francis to heed the legacy of the Servant of God Pope Pius VII, a courageous witness of the Gospel in times of struggles and divisions.

By Lisa Zengarini

Pope Francis on Saturday paid tribute to the unwavering faith and dedication to the Church of the Servant of God Pope Pius VII (1742-1823) , who was elected to the Papacy in 1800 in one of the most turbulent years of Europe’s and the Church’s history, marked by the French Revolution and Napoleon’s rule.

A Benedictine monk and a renowned theologian, Pius VII, born Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti, is remembered along with his predecessor Pius VI for his unyielding opposition to Napoleon’s attempts to subjugate the Church that cost him his arrest and imprisonment in 1809.

“Non debemus, non possumus, non volumus”

Meeting a group of  pilgrims from the Italian Dioceses of Cesena-Sarsina, Savona, Imola and Tivoli as they commemorate the bicentenary of his death, Pope Francis recalled that  Pius VII’s “dedication to God and the Church” remained unshakable even at the moment of  his arrest, when he refused a compromise offered to him saying: “Non debemus, non possumus, non volumus” (“We must not, we cannot, we don’t want”).

Delving into his life, Pope Francis  described how he witnessed to three key values,  which are also essential for our personal and community journeys of faith: communion, testimony and mercy.

A staunch supporter and defender of communion

Pius VII, the Pope said, was “a staunch supporter and defender of communion” in times of fierce struggles and divisions: “With his calm and tenacious perseverance in defending unity”, he was able “to transform the arrogance of those who wanted to isolate him into  opportunities to relaunch a message of dedication and love for the Church, to which God’s people responded with enthusiasm. The result – Pope Francis noted – was a community that was materially poorer, but morally more cohesive, strong and credible.”

His example, the Pope remarked, therefore also encourages us today to be builders of unity in the Church, that is “to make communion, encourage reconciliation, promote peace, faithful to the truth in charity!”

“One thing that helps communion a lot is knowing how to speak well. Badmouthing, gossip, instead destroys communion. When you feel compelled to speak badly about someone else, bite your tongue and you will do a great job for the community and unity.”

A courageous announcer of the Gospel

A meek man, Pope Francis continued, Pius VII was also a “courageous announcer of the Gospel”, with his words and with his life. This is testified by the remarks he addressed to the Cardinals electors at the beginning of his pontificate, when he stressed the need to set an example “in humility, in modesty, in patience, in charity and in every priestly duty” to preserve the” authentic dimension of the Church.” 

He lived out this ideal of Christian prophecy throughout his life “with dignity”, in good and bad times, both on a personal and ecclesial level, “even when this led him to clash with the powerful of his time.”

A social reformer

Finally, Pope Francis recalled that, despite the difficultieshe faced during the Napoleonic rule, Pius VII paid a particular attention to the needy and carried out far-reaching social reforms that emancipated poor peasants, abolished privileges and the practice of torture.

He showed the same mercy towards his persecutors: “Although he denounced their errors and abuses in no uncertain terms, he tried to keep a channel of dialogue open with them and above all always offered his forgiveness.”

Love for truth and willingness to dialogue

Bringing his address to a close,  Pope Francis invited the Italian pilgrims to reflect on the many values  which the memory of this Servant of God recalls to our mind: love for truth, unity, dialogue, attention to the least, forgiveness, the tenacious search for peace :”It will do us good to meditate on them, make them our own and bear witness to them, so that the style of meekness and willingness to sacrifice may grow in us and in our communities,” he concluded.

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