Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 23, 2009
Vatican celebrates 80th year
BY CAROL GLATZ
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — The smallest nation in the world is celebrating a relatively young 80th birthday this year.
Although the Catholic Church has a 2,000-year history, Vatican City State was established Feb. 11, 1929, to guarantee that the Holy See and the pope could freely carry out their spiritual mission of confirming Christians in the faith and guiding the universal Church.
The transition from the Papal States to nationhood was a long and bumpy road.
Starting in the eighth century, the Church wielded temporal power over what was known as the Papal States, a shifting group of territories across parts of modern-day Italy.
The popes at the time were territorial sovereigns and, as such, had to deal with the unpleasant risks and worries of foreign powers bent on invasion, rival Roman emperors and powerful Roman families vying for control of the papacy.
In the 19th century, revolutionaries fought against papal control in their struggle to unify Italy and the Papal States dissolved in 1870 after Rome and surrounding territories annexed into a unified country covering the entire peninsula.
A dispute with the Italian government over the sovereignty of the Holy See kept popes confined inside the walls of the Vatican from 1870 to 1929.
The dispute, which became known as the Roman Question, did not seem to have a quick and easy answer.
On the one hand, Italy had legitimate aspirations “to finally achieve its own state unity and, among other things, to designate as its capital Rome, which had been its point of reference for millennia,” said a front-page article in L’Osservatore Romano, Feb. 11.
But on the other hand, it said, Rome was the see of Peter and his successors. The Holy See legitimately needed a formal and effective guarantee of its independence and freedom, “which are absolutely necessary for the pontiff in order to carry out his spiritual mission on a universal level,” the paper said.
No pope wanted to compromise his task as shepherd of the universal Church by being under the control and authority of a sovereign leader.
Years of negotiations under Pope Pius XI finally resulted in a resolution. Vatican officials and Italy’s Prime Minister Benito Mussolini signed the Lateran Pacts of 1929 in which the Vatican and the Italian state recognized each other as sovereign nations.
CREATING THE STATE
Pope Pius now had an enormous, nonspiritual task before him: planning and building all the infrastructure that would be needed for the smooth functioning of an independent state on 109 acres of land. How Vatican City State was built up nearly from scratch is at the centre of a new exhibit open at the Vatican until May 10.
Old maps show how acres of vineyards and vegetable gardens that had supplied homegrown goods to the pope and Vatican seminaries were razed to make way for the building of a governor’s office.
The administrative office would come to coordinate the functions of some 20 agencies today, including the Vatican Museums and the offices responsible for security, personnel and building maintenance throughout the territory.
The governor’s office continues to oversee all the new buildings that were erected under Pope Pius’ direction, including the Vatican’s railway station, electrical generating plant and radio.