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Vatican Connections: Roman Profiles

Alicia Ambrosio

Friday, August 30, 2013

Vatican Connections is on summer hiatus, returning on September 27. One feature of every Vatican Connections is the "Roman Profile" segment. Below is a Roman Profile post, featuring Cardinal Celso Costantini. Watch for the full, television version of this Roman Profile, featuring and interview with Costantini biographer Monsignor Bruno Pighin, during the new season of Vatican Connections starting this fall.
The Vatican’s official documents from the World War II period are still locked in the Vatican Secret Archives. Yet one detailed, wartime Vatican diary sits on bookshelves across Italy. It reveals, among other things, that Vatican officials were aware that Pope Pius XII had likely helped pay the ransom demanded of the Jewish community by the Germans.
The diary was kept by Cardinal Celso Costantini, an Italian cardinal who served as the first papal delegate to China, then served as secretary to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome during WWII, and eventually, wrote key documents on the importance of sacred art.
Throughout his varied career, it seems there is nothing this man did not do: from founding a congregation to winning a Gold Lion at the Biennale di Venezia, the prestigious Italian art expo, according to his biographer, Monsignor Bruno Pighin.
As papal representative to China, Cardinal Costantini spoke of the importance of “de-colonizing” the church in Asia. He founded a congregation of priests, the Congregation of Disciples of the Lord, which led to him witnessing the ordination of the first six Asian born, Asian formed priests.
Yet, it was precisely his push to “de-colonize” the church in Asia that, angered those trying to maintain a European presence in the area and led to him being posted to Rome as secretary for the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, says his biographer.
During his posting in Rome he kept a detailed diary of events in the city. He witnessed first hand the bombing of the eternal city, and the deportation of the Jewish community. Through it all he quietly maintained friendships with government officials.
It was these friendships, according to Msgr. Pighin, which helped establish a core group of Italian politicians that would not support German policies against Jews in Rome.
Considered by many to be a prophetic voice – Costantini began speaking of the need for a second Vatican Council back in the 1930s – he was viewed by many Cardinals as “papabile” in the 1958 conclave.
Cardinal Costantini didn’t make it to the conclave that elected Pope John XXIII. On October 9, 1958, Pope Pius XII died, and just eight days later Cardinal Costantini passed away. The conclave to elect the next successor of Peter did not begin until October 25.
For more information about he Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord, visit their website
For a full biography of Cardinal Celso Costantini, visit the Italian page : 
 The English version of the cardinal’s wartime diary will be released by McMaster-Queens University Press this fall.
Image courtesy of:  Associazione Amici del Cardinal Costantini

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