Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza

Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza

Ponteficia Commissione di Assistenza (PCA), also known as “Ponteficia Commissione di Assistenza ai Profughi”, “Vatican mission” and “Vatican Relief”, was a papal ad-hoc commission, created by Pope Pius XII on April 18, 1944, to provide quick, non-bureaucratic and direct aid to needy populations, refugees, prisoners in war-torn Europe.

Ponteficia Commissione di Assistenza

The needs of millions of people after the war and the thirty million refuges in Europe [Gatz 449] created new challenges for charities throughout the world. The papal Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza was a creation of Pius XII. Its large scale assistance was to be quick, to the victims and basic. On April 18, 1944, Monsignore Ferdinando Baldelli, Carlo Egger and Otto Faller started on behalf of the Pope the official Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza. [Primo Mazzolari, La Carita Del Papa, Pio XII.e la ricostruzione dell’Italia, Edizione Paoline, 1991)] Parallel to these efforts, Madre Pascalina was asked by the Pope to direct his personal charity efforts, the Magazino, officially under Monsignor Montini, later Pope Paul VI. The Vatican has decided not to publish summary statistics on the full extend of its charity, only spotty information is available. The papal Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza< to the most needy populations of Europe delivered more than ninety thousand crates, weighing well over six million pounds. They were shipped by rail from Vatican station to dozens of countries, Catholic, Protestant and Pagan” [Smit 234] The Pope asked the faithful, bishops, governments and the United Nations for help. In 1946, he invited 50 000 children to the Vatican. They each received a full meal after which the Pope thanked the benefactors of the United Nations for their great generosity. [L’Osservatore Romano, January 27, 1946]

As Bishop of Rome, Pope Pius XII felt a personal obligation towards needy Romans. He increased papal soup kitchen rations from three million rations annually to forty million by the year 1947. On Christmas 1944, he personally gave gift packages to three thousand Roman children and delivered another four thousand to children on the Feast of Epiphany, two weeks later. By Christmas 1945, Pope Pius had forty thousand packages. The Swedish King Gustav V, awarded Pope Pius XII with the “Prince Carl Medal”, given annually to the person with the most outstanding record in charity in the world. [L’Osservatore Romano, March 1, 1947] Millions of refugees and displaced persons existed in post-war Europe, many of them in Italy. The Red Cross and the PCA did their best to issue on the spot identity papers to these millions of victims, who had lost everything. Some characters with dark background took advantage of the unorganized massive aid efforts. After 1990, the activities of the PCA and the Red Cross were critically reviewed, as it became known, that both organizations had aided German and Croatian war criminals to leave Europe in the so called Rat line.

The temporary ad-hoc organization received official status on June 15 1953, when the Pontificia Commissione di Assistenza (PCA) was renamed into Pontificia Opera di Assistenza in Italia (POA). In Northern Italy, it assisted 300 000 flood victims over along period of time in the 1953. At the death of Pope Pius XII, it assisted eight million needy persons through diocesan offices throughout Italy. [Gatz,450] Pope Pius repeatedly supported these charity efforts in several messages, his annual Christmas messages and in his encyclical Haurietas Aquas. [AAS 1949, 165-172; AAS 1947, 625-627; AAS 1946, 15-25; Haurietas Aquas AAS 1956, 309-353] The French hierachy created in 1946 its own Secours Catholique and the Catholic American hierarchy initiated the War Relief Services WRS, which was associated to the National Catholic Welfare Conference. The Papal and other Catholic charities depended largely on the generosity of American Catholics after the war, who contributed thirty million dollars over a very short period of time. [Gatz, 450]

As national Catholic charities began to mushroom, Pope Pius XII initiated the creation of an international Catholic Charity Conference and invited national organisations to a meeting in Rome September 15, 1950 They agreed to a permanent cooperation and elected Ferdinando Baldelli as president. In the following years, Catholic charities developed in Latin America and Asia. As war relief services lost in importance, these charities specialized increasingly in emergency aid, such as Hungarian refugees after the revolution, earth quakes, or floods in The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. [Gatz, 453] In 1970, POA was changed into Caritas Italiana by Pope Paul VI

Although Pope Pius XII began to speak on the subject in his last months of 1958, the concept of large scale international development aid was not formalized during the time of Pope Pius.

The Magazino of Madre Pascalina Lehnert

To assist the pope in the many calls for his help and charity, Pascalina Lehnert, organized and led the Magazino, a private papal charity office, which began with 40 helpers and continued until 1959. “It started from modest beginnings and became a gigantic charity”. [Pascalina Lehnert, p. 104] Pascalina organized truck caravans filled with medicine, clothing, shoes and food to prison camps and hospitals, provided first aid, food and shelter for bomb victims, fed the hungry population of Rome, answered emergency calls for aid to the Pope, sent care packages to France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria and other countries. After the war, the calls for papal help continued in war-torn Europe: Madre Pascalina organized emergency aid to displaced persons, prisoners of war, victims of floods, and many victims of the war. Pascalina distributed also hundreds of religious items to needy priests. In later years, priests with very large parishes received small cars or motor bikes. ”. [Pascalina Lehnert, p.104] The Pope was personally involved, constantly asking bishops from the United States Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, and other countries for help. ”. [Pascalina Lehnert, p. 103] Cardinals and Bishops freely visited Madre Pascalina, who by now was nicknamed Virgo Potens, powerful virgin.


* Erwin Gatz, Karitas und kirchliche Hilfswerke, in Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, Herder Freiburg, 1985

* A Giovagnoli, La Ponteficia Commissione di Assistenza e gli aiuti americani 1945-1948, in Storia contemporanea n 5-6, 1978

* L’Attivita della Santa Sede, Tipographia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1944-1958

* Primo Mazzolari, La Carita Del Papa, Pio XII.e la ricostruzione dell’Italia, Edizione Paoline, 1991

* Smit, Jan Olav Pope Pius XII, London and Dublin, Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1950


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