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Vatican commemorates 80th anniversary of Pius XII’s meeting with Allied troops

Vatican commemorates 80th anniversary of Pius XII’s meeting with Allied troops

By Courtney Mares

Bagpipers solemnly marched through St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday to mark the 80th anniversary of a historic meeting between Pope Pius XII and Allied troops who liberated Rome from Nazi occupation.

On June 12, 1944, Pius XII gave an enthusiastic speech in English thanking the members of the 38th (Irish) Brigade as he welcomed them to the Vatican.

To commemorate the historic moment, the Royal Irish Regiment and 38th (Irish) Brigade performed for Pope Francis during his general audience on June 12.

Ambassador Chris Trott, the British ambassador to the Holy See, pointed out that the brigade’s pipe band played the same tune at the exact same time as their forebears did in St. Peter’s Square 80 years ago.

In an interview with CNA, the U.K. ambassador described the significance of the commemoration in the wake of the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.

“We’ve spent the last 10 days focused on the 80th anniversary of what happened in northern France, but it’s easy to forget … that there was an army fighting its way through Italy trying to liberate the peninsula,” Trott said.

The Royal Irish Regiment and 38th (Irish) Brigade perform for Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 12, 2024. Credit: U.K. Embassy to the Holy See

The commemoration this morning was to mark a moment in time when Rome and then the Vatican were liberated by the Allied armies in 1944.”

The 38th (Irish) brigade formed in 1942 and was made up of Irish-born and second- and third-generation Irish born in Britain. The brigade had fought in Tunisia and the landings in Sicily before joining the campaign to liberate the Italian peninsula from German occupation. 

Pope Pius XII said after the liberation of Rome that he wanted to say thank you to the Irish regiment who had been the first ones to come into Rome, Trott explained, so he invited them to come back from the front for the day for an audience at the Vatican.

Historic news footage from 1944 published by Pathé shows Pius XII encouraging Allied troops visiting the Vatican to always remain “close to God” before giving them a papal blessing.

Father Dan Kelleher, the brigade’s Catholic chaplain, helped to arrange the papal audience, which included 150 servicemen, mostly Catholics.

Pius XII told the Irish brigade that they belonged “to the nation which has ever belonged to God’s church since St. Patrick,” according to The Irish Times.

Members of the Royal Irish Regiment and 38th (Irish) Brigade play bagpipes in a performance for Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 12, 2024. Credit: U.K. Embassy to the Holy See

“We are well aware of the good which the Irish have done in spreading the faith from the shores of their green isle into the United States of America, Australia, South Africa, and many other nations,” Pius said.

Although there are no longer any living members of the 38th (Irish) Brigade who met with Pope Pius XII, their family members and descendents traveled to Rome for the anniversary. 

The delegation included a Chelsea Pensioner, whose uncle played in the pipe band for Pope Pius XII on June 12, 1944. Three World War II veterans from the Chelsea Pensioners were also present to greet Pope Francis.

Following the audience, the Royal Irish Regiment led a Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving for the Lives of All who Fought for the Liberation of Italy (1943-1945) at the Basilica of San Silvestro in Rome.

A soldier displays a coat of arms during the Royal Irish Regiment and 38th (Irish) Brigade’s performance for Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 12, 2024. Credit: U.K. Embassy to the Holy See

The ambassador, whose grandfather fought in the campaign to liberate Italy, also recalled the heroic witness of Ireland’s Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who worked with Trott’s predecessor, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, the British envoy to the Holy See, to protect the vulnerable from within the walls of Vatican City during World War II.

“For me, this is the sort of thing that I will always remember,” Trott said.

“My grandfather fought in Italy and so for me to be able to facilitate this commemoration is hugely important both officially and personally,” he said.

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