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The Pope's Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI's Campaign to Stop Hitler Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 19, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Justified or not, the Vatican has recently been subjected to numerous attacks for its relationship with the Nazis and its role in the Holocaust. The criticism centers on the activities (or inactivity) of Pope Pius XII. But his predecessor, Pius XI, was cut from different cloth. Before and after his ascension to the Papacy, Pius XI had been an ardent spokesman for “social justice” and opposition to various forms of racism. As pope, he well understood the dangers posed by fascism and the Nazis and didn’t hesitate to criticize Western democracies for their passivity. Before his untimely death, in 1939, Pius was influenced strongly by an American prelate, John La Farge, who had campaigned against racial injustice in the U.S. Eisner, a historian and journalist, suggests that the survival of Pius XI beyond 1939 could have put a much different focus on Catholic-Jewish relations and perhaps ameliorated some aspects of the Holocaust. That is certainly debatable, but this is an interesting work that usefully poses a what-if question while attempting to provide a more balanced view of Vatican policies in the 1930s. --Jay Freeman

Review

“Engrossing. ... Lively.” (Library Journal)

“An exciting reminder of how Vatican machinations continue to haunt history.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Gripping. ... Finally, the story of a lost opportunity that could have affected the course of history can now be told.” (Voice of Reason)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (March 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062049143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062049148
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,476,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The year was 1938. Hitler was in complete power, leading Nazi Germany on a campaign through Europe, to spread his views. In the Vatican, Pope Pius XI, who was slowly declining into failing health, sought the assistance of an American Jesuit Priest, John LaFarge. LaFarge was a scholar, whose expertise on racial injustices perfectly fit into the Church's views on the situation. His goal was to publicly denounce the Nazism and anti-Semitism that he feared would destroy the teachings of the church. Coming from the Pope, the highest leader of the Catholic Church, this condemnation of Hitler could potentially impact the views of other world leaders, and in turn, World War II itself.

Of course, this process was easier said than done. Pius XI found himself in the midst of an Italian government that seemed to be, whether out of fear or agreement, embracing Hitler's Germany. They even invited the leader to visit their country. Pius XI would have nothing to do with the fanfare of Hitler's arrival. Instead, he retreated to a private Vatican estate, outside of the city, in a quiet protest. Met by resistance from even members of his own church who would rather keep peace with Hitler than provoke him with a damning proclamation, Pius XI stuck to his guns, to denounce what he knew was wrong.

I've always been fascinated by the many pieces to the giant puzzle that is World War II. This time in our history seems to show the best and worst aspects of our world, and I think there are many things to be learned. I was unfamiliar with the story of Pope Pius XI, but with all of the recent actions taking place in the Vatican, it seemed like a good time to delve deeper into the church's history. I was immediately drawn to Pius's unassuming, humble ways. He really comes off as a kind of quiet force.
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Format: Paperback
“The Pope’s Last Crusade” by Peter Eisner.
Subtitled: “How An American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius Xi’s Campaign to Stop Hitler”.
HarperCollins, New York 2013.

Peter Eisner has taken the known history of the “hidden encyclical” of Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) and produced a mystery book, which has the reader involved in the next step in publishing the encyclical even while knowing that history shows the encyclical was NOT published. The book is well written and captures the intrigue within the Vatican and the hierarchy of the time.

The main characters are Pius XI (Achille Ratti 1857-1939), of course, and the Jesuit, John LaFarge, Jr., (1880-1963). In fact, this book is one of the more complete biography of John LaFarge, or, perhaps, an extensive biographical sketch.
Since the book deals with the time period to 1938 to early 1939, the author, Peter Eisner, has been rather dismissive of the strong courage of Pius XI. On page 33, Eisner emphasizes the general opinion of Pius XI: that he was a conservative defending the Church, regardless. Pius XI took on Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin when the Church was involved. This book, which addresses a limited time period, does not even mention the encyclical, “Non Abbiamo Bisogno” (We Do Not Need), the first modern encyclical written in a vernacular language and not in Latin. In this 1931 encyclical, Pius XI fundamentally called Mussolini’s regime anti-Catholic, and the Pope condemned the pagan worship of the state. Remember that this was the time when Mussolini was at the peak of his power, with a Vietnam type war in Libya and a war in Ethiopia that included the use of poison gas against the Ethiopians. The League of Nations censored Italy, but did nothing.

Hitler came to power by popular vote in 1933.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bought it after reading a HuffPost recommendation. I had an interest in Pius XII, the so-called 'Hitler's Pope' but had never heard of any contribution Pius XI had made. That all changed after reading this book. Great back story on Fr. LaFarge, Pius XI, and Cardinal Pachelli (later Pius XII) and how their world's collided at the apex of the Vatican's campaign to expose the threat of Nazism and fascism to the world. I will admit it is a bit of a page-burner and Mr. Eisner wrote in a manner that keeps each chapter hanging until the next. Great book and an easy read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story of a Papal Encyclical, written by the courageous Pope Pius XI, which never made it to the eyes of the world. It is said that it would have prevented the deaths of thousands of German Catholics and Jewish people, so strong was the language he used against National Socialism and Mussolini's Facism, both ideologies born out of hatred of another race or religion. An American Jesuit helped him to write it.
A famous author was this Jesuit, who wrote against racism, and, stood at the side of Martin Luther King...as he delivered his ' I have a dream' speech. It lays buried deep in the Vatican archives, this encyclical, though one paragraph was found and made it to this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Peter Eisner has reached back into 20th Century history to find a fascinating character whom almost no one has ever heard of: the American Jesuit priest John LaFarge. An early campaigner for racial equality in the United States, LaFarge was asked in 1938 by Pope Pius XI to draft an encyclical that would condemn Nazi persecution and theories of racial superiority. What he wrote and what happened to the draft gives an illuminating look into church teachings, European politics and efforts to head off World War II. Eisner's book has a very engaging style, is deeply researched and draws on LaFarge's personal papers to recount not just one man's story but a whole era. You'll like this book.
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