Pope Pius XI

Pope XI

Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti was born in Desio on 31st May, 1857. He went to the seminary at Milan and later obtained a doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University.

Ratto worked as a parish priest until moving to the Ambrosian Library in Milan. In 1912 Pope Pius X appointed him assistant librarian at the Vatican. Later he became head of the Vatican Library.

In 1918 Pope Benedict XV sent Ratti to Poland and after the First World War witnessed the invasion by the Red Army. In 1921 he was appointed as Cardinal Archbishop of Milan. The following year he became Pope Pius XI.

Pius XI published thirty encyclicals covering subjects such as education, marriage and social problems. In 1929 he signed the Lateran Treaty with Benito Mussolini which brought into existence the Vatican state.

Pius XI condemned the Nuremberg Laws in July, 1938, and was preparing an encyclical against anti-Semitism, when he died on 10th February, 1939. His successor, Pius XII, decided not to speak out against the atrocities being carried out in Nazi Germany.

Primary Sources

(1) Hiliare Belloc, letter to Wilfred Blunt (20th March, 1922)

I had a long conversation with him. He is a remarkable man - far superior to his predecessor. He is full of experience of Europe & knows England well - which is rather a rare advantage at the Vatican & should prove very useful in the near future. He reads English continually & familiarly and French & German as a matter of course. His questions to me were very central & to the point & he took a lively interest in the effects of the war on our society and government. I could only give him very gloomy replies, for indeed I see no hope of recovery.

There is something like a very definite pact - understood rather than expressed - between the Vatican now & the Italian government. The first great religious procession since 1870, through the streets of Rome took place while I was there: it was the carrying of the body of St Philip Neri through the streets on the third centenary of his canonization and hundreds of thousands turned out in honour of it: a most extraordinary sight! The French Embassy had a specially decorated balcony on the Palazzo Farnese - which is typical of this moment of transition in which we live - as was also the fact that they were all present in a special Tribuna at the High Mass at St Peter's.