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Letter: No blessing for the Italians

IN HIS article on the rehabilitation of Mussolini ('The resurrection of Il Duce', 15 May), Michael Sheridan says that 'the future Pope John XXIII blessed the ranks of Italian soldiers off to Spain and Abyssinia.' As the author of John XXIII, Pope of the Council, I can assure him that there is no evidence for this statement. Indeed, Angelo Roncalli was not in a position to bless Italian troops since he was the papal diplomat in Istanbul from 1925 to the end of 1944.

As Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece, his duty was to maintain strict impartiality. He was careful not to appear 'too Italian'. When the Italian community of Istanbul asked him to sing a Te Deum after the conquest of Addis Ababa, he refused. Instead he preached at a Requiem Mass for Jozef Pilsudski, the Polish leader, who had just died.

In the post-war period Roncalli, now back home as Patriarch of Venice, was one of the few Italian bishops who dealt honestly with the Mussolini question. Mussolini's life illustrated for Roncalli 'the mystery of divine providence which sometimes uses vessels of clay for the realisation of its plans, and then breaks them, as though they had been made for this purpose alone.'

Peter Hebblethwaite