The Venerable Pope Pius XII, Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Eugenio Pacelli, was born on 2 March 1876. Of noble birth, he was the son of Filippo Pacelli, dean of the Vatican lawyers and a nephew of Ernesto Pacelli, a key financial advisor to Pope Leo XII.

Pacelli became a Roman Catholic priest at the age of 23, in 1899. From 1904 until 1916 he assisted Cardinal Gasparri in his codification of canon law, and in 1917 was was appointed Apostolic Nuncio in Bavaria by Pope Benedict XV. Three years later he became Apostolic Nuncio to the German Weimar Republic, and in 1929 he was created a cardinal. Within a few months he was appointed papal Secretary of State.

During the 1930s Cardinal Pacelli arranged agreements between the Pope and the secular government of Bavaria, Prussia, Austria and Germany. He also made many diplomatic visits throughout Europe and the Americas. On 2 March 1939, six months before the outbreak of World War II, Pacelli became Pope, taking the name Pope Pius XII.

Pius XII's role during World War II has been a source of considerable controversy. He met with Hitler to sign the Reichskonkordat on July 8 1933, Hitler's first bilateral treaty with a foreign power, giving him much-needed international prestige. Critics of Pius XII also suggest that Pius failed to speak strongly against Nazism, suggesting that a clear condemnation by the Pope would have seriously undermined Hitler among Germany's many Catholics. Others suggest that Pius actually worked tirelessly for peace and helped Jews facing persecution in Europe. He certainly provided relief to the victims of the war on both sides. As many as 1,500,000 refugees, including Jews, were helped by Pius, many through the granting of Vatican citizenship. When the Nazis occupied Rome on 10 September 1943, Pius opened the Holy See to Jewish refugees. He may have also supported a network of priests who smuggled vast numbers of Jews to safety. After World War II Pius XII was awarded the title 'Righteous Gentile' by the state of Israel.

During his reign, Pius XII canonised eight saints and beatified five people. In 1950, using Papal Infallibility, he promulgated a new dogma, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven (ie, that Mary, mother of Jesus, was taken into heaven body and soul). Among his most prominent encyclicals were the Communium Interpretes Doloraum: An Appeal for Prayers for Peace, 15 April 1945, In Multiplicibus Curis: On Prayers for Peace in Palestine, 24 October 1948 and Anni Sacri: On A Program For Combating Atheistic Propaganda Throughout The World, 12 March 1950.

Pius was dogged with ill-health later in life, and died on October 9 1958. He became a candidate for sainthood under Pope John Paul II in the 1990s. He has been raised to Venerable, an early step in the process of sainthood.

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