January 6, 2020

Pope Saint John XXIII and the Houses of Life



The Board of the Wallenberg Foundation has resolved to erect a monument that will pay tribute to the life and humanitarian feats of Angelo Roncalli


Back in 2014, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) launched the Houses of Life educational program. Since then, hundreds of sites that gave shelter to the victims of the Nazi extermination plan were identified. The aim of this ambitious endeavor is to affix a commemorative plaque on the façade of each institution or private home that stretched a caring hand to the persecuted during the Holocaust. By so doing, the IRWF seeks to raise global awareness of the feats of the rescuers.

The Board of the IRWF, with the support of several institutions that had been proclaimed Houses of Life since 2014, will soon officially announce an upcoming recognition of the life and figure of Pope Saint John XXIII. Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (1881-1963), he was popularly known as “The Good Pope” back in his days, for he was a source of inspiration to all the Holocaust rescuers, including those who acted under the roofs of the Houses of Life.

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The IRWF acknowledges that the idea of the Houses of Life program was by and large inspired by this man of unique moral stature who dedicated his entire life to strengthening the brotherly bonds between Catholics and Jews. From 1940-1944, during the dark days of the Holocaust, when he served as Vatican apostolic delegate in Istanbul, he aided thousands of Jewish refugees who were in transit in Turkey, facilitating a route of escape to Palestine.

His door was always open and his heart receptive to the representatives of Jewish Palestine who asked for his intervention in favor of the Jews. He also interceded with the Slovakian government to allow the exodus of children, and appealed to King Boris II of Bulgaria not to allow his country’s Jews to be deported to Germany. In addition, he collaborated with Nuncio Angelo Rotta by giving his consent to transport via diplomatic courier vital documents needed in the quest to save Jews. Last but not least, he continuously urged his superiors at the Vatican to help the Jews.

Later, as Pope John XXIII, he decided on a major revision of the traditional Church’s attitude in denying the legitimacy of Judaism. He consequently removed a condemnatory segment of the Easter service, when Christians prayed for eliminating the “blindness” and “stubbornness” afflicting the Jews in not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. To sum up, Pope John XXIII was a brave rescuer during the Holocaust, and all his actions and policies were designed to bring the two brotherly communities closer, amid a sense of mutual respect.

The Board of the Wallenberg Foundation has resolved to erect a monument that will pay tribute to the life and humanitarian feats of Angelo Roncalli. The details will be officially revealed soon.

At the same time, the IRWF is delighted to announce that in the near future a Houses of Life memorial will be created by an internationally renowned artist, and that Pope Francis, one of the founding members of the foundation, will be consulted in order to evaluate the possibility of the memorial being installed in the Vatican.

The spirit of solidarity displayed by Pope Saint John XXIII and the Houses of Life program are intimately intertwined and should be role models to the young generations

Eduardo Eurnekian is chairman, and Baruch Tenembaum is founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.