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When the pope’s palace became a refugee center and neonatal unit

vatican-gardens

Because Pope Francis isn’t using the traditional papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, and apparently has no plans ever to do so, beginning today the Vatican has flung open its doors to the public, turning it into a museum and, at the same time, giving a badly needed shot in the arm to local businesses that desperately miss the pope’s presence.

To mark the day, it’s worth recalling that the doors of Castel Gandolfo have been flung open to the public before – only not for a tour, but to save the lives of people in desperate circumstances, turning the papal palace into one of the most unusual, and courageous, refugee centers ever operated by the Catholic Church.

In January of 1944, after Italy had been occupied by Nazi forces, the area of the Castelli Romani where Castel Gandolfo is situated was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the Second World War. Thousands of people were turned into refugees and displaced persons overnight, and scores of others saw their names placed on death lists for sympathizing with the partigiani, meaning the Italian resistance fighters.

At that time Pope Pius XII was essentially a “prisoner of the Vatican,” unable to leave the 108-acre space within the Vatican walls, in part for fear of being arrested by the Nazis should he do so. His young secretary, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini – the future Pope Paul VI – informed him of the situation in the area around Castel Gandolfo, and the decision to throw open the papal palace was made without hesitation.

Read more at Crux.

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