FROM THE ARCHIVES: Lakeview man meets the pope

From the Archives | Sandy Main

Pope Francis, who became pope last month, is known for his concern for the poor. The man who was pope 100 years ago also was known for his concern for the poor, and a Lakeview resident had a chance to meet him in 1912 during an extended trip to Europe.

As reported in January by the Greenville Independent, “S.S. Edgar of Lakeview is on a trip to Europe. He expects to spend some time in Italy, visiting Naples, Florence and Rome.”

More than a month later the Independent noted, “S.S. Edgar of Lakeview, on a trip to Europe, while in Italy had an audience with Pope Pius — at least he wrote home so on a postal card, reports the Enterprise.”

The Pope Pius referred to was Pius X, whose papacy began Aug. 4, 1903. He was born Guiseppe Sarto to poor parents in a small Italian town. Upon becoming a priest, he first served as curate at Tombolo, where he “labored among his favorite parishioners, the poor,” according to “Lives of Saints” published by John J. Crawley & Co. Inc.

Father Sarto’s concern for the poor continued. At his next parish of Salzano, “soon his concern and help toward the poor became well known throughout the parish, and his two sisters, who acted as his housekeepers, were often at wit’s end as their brother gave away much of his own clothing and food to the needy.”

As Pope Pius X, his poor background made him popular with Catholics in the United States because it made him seem like an ordinary person.

As it turned out, Edgar wrote more than a postal card about his experience. The Independent reprinted his letter describing his meeting with the pope:

“S.S. Edgar of Lakeview writes to the Enterprise a letter from which we quote the following: ‘I think the last time I wrote you I was in Rome. Before leaving I got permission to visit the pope. At the time of receiving my letter of introduction I was asked by what further right I expected to gain admission, as I did not have the pass. I was instructed to wear a white tie and a dress suit, neither of which I had, so I was informed that these would be furnished me. I was also instructed to kneel and kiss the ring.

“‘So being armed with all instructions, at the hour set I went to the Vatican or residence, which is a palace of gilt and gold. I found at the entrance two guards dressed in armor representing, I thought, the knights of the middle ages.

“‘When we arrived in the reception room we were all told to kneel, and the first to make an appearance was one clothed in a purple and scarlet robe, followed by two richly and brilliantly dressed men in uniforms with golden scepters, followed by his holiness the pope, dressed in what appeared to be a robe of white silk. After passing around to each one, of which I think there were about twelve, he passed out of the room and that concluded the reception.

“‘Now right here I want to say that anyone going to Rome with the intention of having an audience with the pope had better get a recommend from some bishop of the church, as without it you will not gain admission, as recommends coming from political officials are not recognized whatever.’”

The papacy of Pius X lasted just two years after Edgar’s meeting with him. According to “Lives of Saints,” “Pius X labored for the Master until the very last days of his life. His 79 years had not set too heavily upon him, but overwork and anxiety over the impending doom of a World War began to take their toll. Pius saw clearly the horrors of the coming conflict and felt helpless that he could not prevent it. A little more than a month after the outbreak of the war, the Pope was seized with an attack of influenza, and his weakened constitution could not combat the illness.

“The end for the Christ-like Pius came peacefully on Aug. 20, 1914, and the world, though in the throes of a death struggle, paused to mourn the gentle and humble man whose last will and testament gave such an insight into his character. It read, in part, ‘I was born poor, I lived poor, I die poor.’”

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