Today marks the death of Pope Benedict XV (1854-1922). Born Giacomo Della Chiesa, he spent most of his ecclesiastical career in the Vatican diplomatic corps before being named Archbishop of Bologna in 1907. When Pope Pius X died in 1914, Word War I had just begun, and the cardinals who assembled to elect a new pope wanted someone with diplomatic experience. Benedict’s eight year pontificate saw several significant accomplishments. One of them was the 1917 publication of the Canon Law Code. He also encouraged native vocations in the missions and urged missionaries not to impose their own culture on native peoples. He gave the Eastern Catholic Churches their own institute within the Curia (the church government). But his greatest achievement was steering the Holy See through World War I. Both sides accused him of favoring the other, but his guiding point was strict neutrality with calls for peace. He spent millions on relief work both during and after the war. When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took the name Benedict in 2005, he had in mind Benedict XV, “that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples.”
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