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Rome Reports

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Benedict XV: 100 years since his election

One hundred years ago, on September 3, 1914, Italian cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa became Pope Benedict XV. Elected at the dawn of World War I, history remembers him as a peace-maker.  

His pontificate wasn't an easy one: back then, Europe was divided.  

FR. BERNARD  ARDURA 
President, Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences

"During that period, nationalism was huge. Patriotism, to love one's country, is a virtue, but nationalism is not, because it excludes. Nationalism it's not about loving your country, but rather about rejecting the rest of them. Benedict XV had to face all of this."

This Pope witnessed the drama of World War I and dedicated his first encyclical, "Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum," to call for peace. He described war as a useless massacre. In particular, he defined World War I as a dark tragedy in human History. During the conflict the Holy See remained impartial, a stance criticized by the countries involved in the conflict.  

In his quest for peace, Benedict XV even addressed an apostolic exhortation to Heads of State, where he gave clear instructions on how to reach a ceasefire.  

His calls for peace, though, were ignored and war continued until November 1918, leaving behind millions of deaths.  

Benedict XV was the first Pope to call on a week of prayer for the unity of Christians. He also founded the Vatican's Congregation for the Oriental Churches. The Code of Canon Law was published during his pontificate.  

He canonized Joan of Arc, and promoted interreligious dialogue. A monument in Turkey celebrates him as the "friend of the people."

Benedict XV, is best known as the Pope of Peace. He passed away on January 22, 1922.