April 17, 2015

Villa Mondragone recognized as “House of Life” for saving children from the Holocaust

On 15 April 2015, the Villa Mondragone, of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, academic institution with over 30,000 students, has been recognized as “House of Life” for hiding, behind its walls, several Jews during the Nazi occupation in Italy. The feat was accomplished thanks to the heroism of the Jesuit priest of Maronite origin, Raffaele de Ghantuz Cubbe.

The recognition is attested in a commemorative plaque at the entrance of this former rest of Popes. It was awarded by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an educational NGO chaired by Eduardo Eurnekian and founded by Baruch Tenenbaum. On behalf of the Wallenberg Foundation the plaque was presented by Jesús Colina and Ms. Silvia Costantini, Chief Editor and Institutional Relations Manager of the Catholic News Agency, Aleteia. http://www.aleteia.org/en

When in 1943 the Nazis occupied the Eternal City, Mondragone, located in Frascati, a town located 20 kilometers from Rome, it was a school run by the Jesuits. Two unrelated Jewish families visited the rector, Jesuit Father Raffaele de Ghantuz Cube, and asked him to hide among students their three sons: Mario and Gabriele Sonnino (11 and 9 years old) and Marco Pavoncello (9 years old).

The priest kept the Jewish identity of the three boys in secret to prevent that other small children betray them during a German inspection. The three boys lived in the school with a false name until the liberation day in 1944. Then they continued their studies with their real name until 1948.

The ceremony was attended by Gabriele Sonnino (his brother Mario passed away) and Marco Pavoncello (80). Both remembered with affection the testimony of Father Raffaele de Ghantuz Cubbe, who always respected their Jewish identity.

“Father Cubbe risked his life. Then we realized that if the Nazis had known what was going on here, they would have murdered him.”, admitted Mr. Sonnino.

In 2010 Yad Vashem recognized Father Raffaele de Ghantuz Cubbe as Righteous Among the Nations.

The ceremony was also attended by two nephews of the priest, Francesco and Riccardo de Ghantuz Cubbe. Riccardo, in particular, explained that the origin of the family is in Aleppo, the great Syrian city, meeting place for Muslims, Jews and Christians, which allowed the Maronite Jesuit understand the importance of the interreligious dialogue.

The bishop of the diocese, Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli, one of the writers of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, illustrated the extraordinary progress that has experienced the dialogue between Catholics and Jews after the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII.

Meanwhile, Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Jewish Community of Rome, praised the mission and work of the Wallenberg Foundation and assured collaboration for individualizing more “Houses of Life” that remain to be discovered.

“Given what is happening in the world nowadays initiatives like this one are more necessary than ever,” said Novelli, recalling in particular the recent killing of 147 young people at the University of Garissa, in Kenya.

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