4 August 2023 is the 120th anniversary of the election of Giuseppe Sarto as Bishop of Rome and Pope. His humble origins and his immense charity are testified to in many everyday acts, in particular also in the time of the great Cholera epidemic which hit the Veneto area in the late 19th century, and in particular in the years in which our saint was parish priest in Salzano. There are many examples of his tireless work as a priest and, at times, even as a nurse. From that experience, in which he did not spare himself, he emerged scarred in body but strong in faith, calling upon people to find themselves in the Lord (see the Parish Registry of Salzano dated 10 November 1875).
The figure of sainthood of Pius X is an invitation—in trying pastoral times like today, with the pandemic and the recent war in Europe and their grave social consequences—to personal, social, spiritual, and creative reform.
With Pope Sarto, we have a chance to rediscover many local witnesses who experienced the Gospel with freshness and imagination, and who contributed to the renewal of the Church and the reform of society in an evangelical sense: bishops Giovanni Antonio Farina (who ordained Giuseppe Sarto as a priest on 18 September 1858) and Andrea Giacinto Longhin (a Capuchin who was appointed bishop of Treviso by Pius X), sister Maria Bertilla Boscardin (a contemporary of Pope Sarto, sainted around the same time), and the economist Giuseppe Toniolo (at the roots of the Church’s social doctrine).
In continuity with them, other extraordinary witnesses who promoted the rejuvenation of ecclesiastical life around the time of the Second Vatican Council, such as the priest Pietro Pavan (who contributed to the Pacem in Terris encyclical and to the Dignitatis humanae declaration of the Second Vatican Council), bishop Marcello Zago (one of the main organizers of the Day of Prayer for Peace on 27 October 1986 in Assisi), the consecrated laywoman Lucia Schiavinato (founder of the Piccoli Rifugi), father Bernardo Sartori (a Comboni missionary in Africa), don Luigi Cecchin (a fidei donum missionary in Latin America), and sister Maddalena Volpato (one of the Figlie della Chiesa that gave her life for the unity of the Church).
Giuseppe Sarto provides us with the figure of a pastor who has always tried to make the Gospel and a Christian life accessible to the people of God. As a chaplain in Tombolo and a parish priest in Salzano, he was completely dedicated to his flock, expressing support and creativity. In a time in which learning took place through catechism, he had the courage to introduce a simpler, more effective new way of offering the contents of Christian faith, putting aside the traditional Catechism of the Council of Trent, also called ‘Roman Catechism’ aimed at parish priests. He helped his parishioners to deeply experience the Eucharist and he wanted to allow children to be able to take Holy Communion around 8 or 9 years old (at the time, the usual age was 12 to 14).
He was also dedicated to a serious civil commitment. In Salzano, like many parish priests in the Veneto region in the 1800s, he found himself entrusted with the responsibility of running the municipality’s schools. He was actually elected director in 1868 and superintendent in 1869; under his management, the girl’s section of the local school was opened (previously, under Austrian rule, girls weren’t educated). He also aimed to improve literacy among adults, with classes being offered in the evenings. In terms of the elderly and public healthcare, he upgraded the local community hospital (one of the few in the province of Venice, closed for financial reasons in 1883) and the connected nursing home for the elderly, by also providing them with appropriate regulations (statutes and internal rules). He particularly tended to the union of the country.
In terms of employment for women, don Giuseppe Sarto worked to industrialize a local business linked to silkworms (which may have been founded in the 1600s): on 26 September 1872, a silk factory that employed circa 200 local women was opened by Moisè Vita Jacur. Sarto also helped get the factory built, taking on the task of obtaining the necessary gravel.
Even today, Saint Pius X inspires the renewal of pastoral life, ensuring that it’s well adapted to modern times. 2023 will mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Catechism Office in the Diocese of Treviso, which in recent years has been busy reforming catechesis for children and teens with the direct engagement of families and Christian communities.
Even the pastoral ministry of parish priests and parish vicars is being re-examined in its entirely so that parishes are aided in experiencing a ‘missionary conversion’ with a style learnt from the ‘synodal path’ (reforming the spirit and style of the organisms of participation). Parishes open in pastoral partnerships, able to proclaim the Gospel and meet the needs of urgent social matters in the area. Support that’s expressed through the network of parish Caritas counselling centres, with attention paid to struggling families, immigrants, convicts, people with disabilities, and recently poor. Parishes capable of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. Parishes that are increasingly sensitive to the new universal challenges indicated by Pope Francis in the Laudato sii and the Fratelli tutti.
As our bishop Michele Tomasi noted, ‘In 1912, he [Pius X] made public an encyclical titled Lacrimabili Statu Indorum on the living conditions and oppression of the indigenous peoples of South America. In it, he remarked how many continued to kill and “scourge men and brand them with hot iron, often for most trivial causes, often for a mere lust of cruelty; or, having suddenly overthrown them, to slay hundreds or thousands in one unceasing massacre; or to waste villages and districts and slaughter the inhabitants, so that some tribes, as we understand, have become extinct in these last few years?”’. He then urged the bishops to ‘to foster and promote all the good works instituted in your dioceses for the benefit of the Indians, and to see that other works likely to contribute to this end may be instituted. In the next place you will diligently admonish your flocks on their most sacred duty of helping religious missions to the natives who first inhabited the American soil.’ Sadly, this heartfelt voice has been echoed by Pope Francis, who still today, in his post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia reminded us that ‘such a history of suffering and contempt does not heal easily. Nor has colonization ended; in many places, it has been changed, disguised and concealed, while losing none of its contempt for the life of the poor and the fragility of the environment. As the bishops of the Brazilian Amazon have noted, “the history of the Amazon region shows that it was always a minority that profited from the poverty of the majority and from the unscrupulous plundering of the region’s natural riches, God’s gift to the peoples who have lived there for millennia and to the immigrants who arrived in centuries past.”’
In 2023, the diocese of Treviso has the fortune of continuing and deepening the service provided to the Churches of the Amazon, with the opening of a new mission, along with the dioceses of Padua and Vicenza, in Roraima, the heart of the Amazon. It will be an opportunity to examine some emergencies such as the ‘protection of creation’, the ‘sustainability’ of our lifestyles (e.g., with energy-based communities), the necessary changes to the economic and financial systems (the Laudato sii communities and the path of the young people involved in The Economy of Francesco).
A special collection to launch the Roraima mission will take place.
Bibliography of Saint Pius X
There are hundreds of books, not to mention important essays in collective works, which help us understand who Saint Pius X was. Below is a short and by no means exhaustive list of some of those titles:
o ROMANATO G., Pio X – Alle origini del cattolicesimo contemporaneo, Lindau, Milan, 2014. This is the most recent and most comprehensive biography of Pius X, which updates the author’s fundamental version published in 1992
o MARCHESAN ANGELO, Papa Pio X nella sua vita e nella sua parola Studio storico del suo vecchio allievo il Sac. Dott. Angelo Marchesan, Stabilimenti Benziger & Co. S. A., Einsiedeln, 1904-1905, p. 588. The main biography of Pius X, which he himself revised. A second edition was published by Desclée, Rome, 1910, p. XV + 588.
o AA. VV., Nato per guidare gli uomini. San Pio X a centocinquanta anni dalla nascita (1835 – 2 giugno – 1985, supplement to “Famiglia Cristiana”, 5 June 1985, n. 23, p. 130.
o Various Authors, II Veneto di Giuseppe Sarto (1835-1903) Documents from the round table held 3 November 1984, Cassa di Risparmio della Marca Trevigiana, Treviso, 1985, p. 113.
o Various Authors, Sulle orme di Pio X. Giuseppe Sarto (1835-1914). Dal microcosmo veneto alla dimensione universale, catalogue of the exhibition which was shown in the places important to Pius X, Municipal Administration of Salzano, Salzano, 1986, p. 171.
o Various Authors, Pio X Un papa e il suo tempo, edited by ROMANATO G., Ed. Paoline, Cinisello Balsamo, 1987.
o Various Authors, Le radici venete di S. Pio X Documents from the conference in Castelfranco Veneto 16-17 May 1986, edited by SILVIO TRAMONTIN, Morcelliana, Brescia, 1987, p. 227.
o Various Authors, Pio X, in I papi del Ventesimo Secolo, Ed. Paoline, 1987-88, pp. 29-52.
o AGASSO DOMENICO, L’ultimo papa santo. Pio X, Ed. Paoline, Turin, 1985, p. 189.
o BAZIN RENÉ, Pio X, translation by T. Casini, prefazione di G. Papini, Lib. Ed. Fiorentina, Florence, 1928, p. 237.
o BORTOLATO Q., Pio X, in Various Authors, I papi del Ventesimo Secolo, edited by Q. BORTOLATO, Ed. Acelum, Asolo, 1998, pp. 34-63.
o BRUGNOTTO G. – ROMANATO G. (edited by) Riforma del cattolicesimo? Le attività e le scelte di Pio X , Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2016. This book contains the activities carried out for the centenary of the death of Saint Pius X, plus a CD with a recording of religious music written by Pius X
o CIPOLLA C., Giuseppe Sarto Vescovo di Mantova, Franco Angeli Editore 2014. A powerful work on Pius X as Bishop of Mantua
o DAL GAL GIROLAMO, Pio X il Papa santo, Libreria Ed. Fiorentina, Florence, 1940, p. 385.
o DIEGUEZ A.M. – PAGANO S.M., Le carte del “sacro tavolo”. Aspetti del pontificato di Pio X dai documenti del suo archivio privato, Vatican Secret Archive, 2006
o DIEGUEZ A.M. – NORDIO D. – AMBROSI R., Pio X un Papa Veneto, Riese Pio X, 2014. Biography of the pontiff with an important iconographic device
o FANTAPPIE’ C., Chiesa romana e modernità giuridica, Milan, 2008
o NORDERA L., Il catechismo di Pio X Per una storia della catechesi in Italia (1896-1912), Libreria Ateneo Salesiano (LAS), Rome, 1988.
o PIERAMI BENEDETTO, Vita del Servo di Dio Pio X, published by the postulation with a preface by Barone L. De Pastor, Marietti, Turin, 1925, p. 211.
o SAN PIO X, Lettere, a cura di NELLO VIAN, second edition, Gregoriana, Padua, 1958, p. XIX-426.
o SAN PIO X, Lettere al nipote don Battista Parolin, edited by NELLO VIAN, Vatican City, 1960, p. XV-102.
o SAN PIO X, Le pastorali del periodo veneziano (1894-1898), edited by A. NIERO, “Quaderni della Fondazione Giuseppe Sarto”, 2, 1990.
o SAN PIO X, Le pastorali del periodo veneziano (1899-1903), edited by A. NIERO, “Quaderni della Fondazione Giuseppe Sarto”, 3, 1991.
o VIAN NELLO, Avemaria per un vecchio prete Intermezzi aneddotici lungo la vita di San Pio X, Marton, Treviso,1977, p. 218. New Edition Edizioni Il Messaggero, Padua, 2013
Documents from the beatification and canonization process:
o Romana Beatificationis et canonizationis S. D. Pii Papae X. Positio super introductione causae, Rome, 1942.
o Positio super virtutibus, Rome, 1949.
o Nova positio super virtutibus, Rome, 1950.