Last Pope Benedict Focused on Ending World War I

TIMOTHY WILLIAMS

New York Times

April 20, 2005

The last pope who chose the name Benedict was an Italian noble who canonized Joan of Arc and spent much of his papacy trying unsuccessfully to end World War I, which had pitted Europe's Catholics against one another.

Born Giacomo della Chiesa in Genoa, Italy, Pope Benedict XV served as pontiff from 1914 to 1922, the second shortest length of time for a pope in the 20th Century. He was elected in early September, less than two months after the outbreak of the war - chosen in part, because he was a trained diplomat who was neutral on the war.

Almost immediately, Benedict XV appealed to the warring sides to make peace. He pushed for a Christmas Day truce in 1914 that was initially agreed to by Germany, but rejected by the Allies. His constant calls for ending the war became so unpopular on both sides that a 1915 agreement between Italy and other Allies contained a secret provision to ignore papal peace efforts.

By the time he delivered his Plea for Peace in 1917, Benedict XV was believed by each side to secretly favor the other. His plea for the end of the war and international arbitration was ignored by the leaders of the combatants with the exception of President Woodrow Wilson, who rejected it.

Benedict XV was successful, however, in having disabled prisoners exchanged via neutral nations and also helped Belgians deported after the German offensive return home.

When the war finally did end in 1918, Pope Benedict was excluded from the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, despite his entreaties to be made part of the talks. Afterward, the pope expressed dissatisfaction with the terms forced upon Germany.

Benedict XV later helped develop a Code of Canon Law and worked on behalf of Armenian refugees.

He died of influenza in 1922. Among his last words were, "We offer our life to God on behalf of the peace of the world."