Wednesday, April 13, 2011



As the Vatican prepares for the beatification of Pope John Paul II (still can't believe it's happening - so soon, but so wonderful!), his shrine is being prepared in St Peter's Basilica.  His remains will rest under the altar in the chapel beside the Pieta (and opposite Pope St Pius X).  It is a good spot because there will be plenty of space for pilgrims to congregate, although perhaps in time congestion might develop and there may be a need to move the body.

While all that is happening, the sacred remains of another saintly Pontiff have been relocated.  Pope John Paul is going to occupy the altar once the resting place of Blessed Pope Innocent XI.  Now for those of you who have been to St Peter's and have seen his tomb, this pope probably did not register - he has been largely forgotten, and yet he was a wonderful man, renowned for his simplicity and piety, and man who, in a number of areas, was ahead of his time.   He was a reformer and set his sights on sorting out the Curia - every Pope seems to have issues there. 

Born Benedetto Odescalchi in Como in 1611, he was of minor nobility.  At the age of nine he just managed to survive the plague.  At 15 he went to work in his brothers' banking business as an apprentice, but eventually went to Rome to study civil law.  He became a priest and then Cardinal Deacon in 1645.  He served the poor of Ferrara during a famine and was called "the father of the poor" by the reigning pope.  In 1650 he was appointed Bishop of Novara, but in 1656 he resigned, returning to Rome and served in a number of congregations as a consultant.

In the Conclave of 1669 he was a strong candidate, but the French vetoed his election.  At the next Conclave, in 1676 he emerged again and King Louis XIV was going to veto his election again, but he was informed that the cardinals and Roman people wanted Benedetto, and so the king had to agree.  Benedetto was elected on the 21st September 1676 taking the name Innocent.

Apart from the usual Papal duties and difficulties, Innocent was very much involved in European affairs, and it was during his reign that the Battle for Vienna took place - he supported the Polish king, Jan III Sobieski who led the Christian armies and saved Europe from Islamic invasion.  Blessed Innocent also had his struggles with the French king, Louis XIV, who was always trying to control the Church.  One of the contentious issues between them was the antics of  French diplomats in Rome who were hiding criminals on the run from the Papal courts, so Innocent abolished the right of asylum. Spurned, the French tried to intimiate Innocent by sending an armed force to Rome, but the pope excommunicated the leader and placed the French Church in Rome, St Louis', under interdict - you did not want to mess with this Pontiff!  Ironically, Blessed Innocent was a supporter of William of Orange in his campaign against the Catholic King James II of England - James, you see, was a supporter of Louis XIV.

Blessed Innocent died on 12 August 1689, and was beatified by Pope Pius XII in 1956.  His feast day is the 12th August.   An interesting pope who was not afraid to take on the secular authorities of his time, sought to defend Catholicism even in the face of Islamic threats.  Seems like he might be quite at home on the Papal throne today.  Next time you are in Rome, don't forget to spent a few minutes in prayer at Blessed Innocent's tomb - now under the Transfiguration mosaic. Perhaps we might also say a prayer or two for his canonisation.

Video: Blessed Innocent XI on the move:

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