After him came the modern popes

Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the death of Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, Pope Pius XI. It is the sort of thing only I would pay attention to.

I am an unusual member of the church justice movement. I consider dead popes my dear friends, even as I laser-critique the two popes who are living.

When one of my theology professors remarked that Pius XI would have been a fun pope to have a beer with, I enthusiastically agreed. In fact, I exceeded his sentiment. I thought Pius would have been a really fun pope for me to have a beer with.

Ratti as a child was called “the little old man.” He worked his way through an algebra book “for fun.” He was not unlike me, who memorized all two-hundred-plus popes at age eleven “for fun.”

Meanwhile, as a former library clerk and an erstwhile cataloger for a special collection, I appreciate that Ratti was a longtime librarian and archivist. Nay, more: he was a paleographer, a scholar of “old writing.” And I share his instinctive, unquestioning esteem for crabbed Greek letters inked onto delicate parchment, for Latin sentences chiseled into silent stone.

Pius wouldn’t like my blog, but he would be enthusiastic about blogging. He was the pope who hurled the church into the communications age by founding Vatican Radio. Its first broadcast featured his modest utterance: “Listen, heavens, while I speak; earth, hear the words that I am saying.” (He was quoting Deuteronomy 32.) Pius also lectured a group of nuns on the many glories of the telephone.

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