Pope Leo XIII
The voters chose, as the 24th selection Pope Leo XIII, the 256th successor of Peter who was elected on February 20, 1878 and died on July 20, 1903. His twenty-five year reign bridged the centuries and ushered in a new awareness within the Church of the socio-political scene worldwide. He was one of the first to recognize the scourge of communism and spoke out strongly in his famous encyclical Rerum novarum. He was also a visionary in seeing the damage the evil one would inflict in this century, being gifted with a vision where he saw the devil bartering with God for a one-hundred year period where he would have free license to wreak havoc in a true test of free-will. The weapon against this onslaught from satan was the beautiful, powerful Prayer to Saint Michael that has been largely ignored since the "spirit of Vatican II" raised its ugly head. We say that because nowhere in the Vatican II documents does it say anything about eliminating this potent prayer. It was done by allies of the devil trying to weaken and infiltrate the Church. Something Leo himself warned about.
Leo was born of noble parents Count Louis Pecci and Anna Prosperi Pecci on March 2, 1810 in the family palace at Carpineto, Italy which was then in the Diocese of Anagni in the Papal States. Baptized Vincent Joachim Pecci, he was the youngest of four brothers and older than his two sisters. The Pecci family was one of the most respectable, well-known and oldest of the Siena nobility, tracing its origins for centuries.
When he was old enough, young Vincent entered the Jesuit-run Roman College which had just been rejuvenated with the long-persecuted Society of Jesus being restored to full accreditation. In December 1837 he was ordained to the priesthood and shortly thereafter, at the age of 27, was asked by Pope Gregory XVI to be his household prelate within the Vatican as well as Referendary of the Signatura. This was unprecedented at such a young age but the Holy Father saw in this future Pope a true priestly spirit with tremendous study talents. In fact, it was these abilities that helped Father Pecci play a pivotal role in preparing documents for the First Vatican Council held from 1869 to 1870 and still not officially closed.
Pecci was appointed Archbishop of Perugia in July 1846 by his predecessor Pope Pius IX who enjoyed one of the longest pontificates in the long history of the Popes. In Pius IX's Consistory of September 21, 1877 he received his red-hat and appointed cardinal camerlingo, taking up residence near Pius IX. He was so close to the Pontiff that Pius appointed Cardinal Pecci to handle his funeral arrangements when that time came. It came sooner than Pecci expected and, though he was one of the newer cardinals, he was so well respected that his fellow College of Cardinals chose him on the third and final ballot by more than two-thirds of the vote to lead Holy Mother Church. When the dean of the Sacred Conclave asked Cardinal Pecci if he would accept, the next Pope replied, "I am unworthy, but the conclave has spoken. I depend totally on God's help and submit entirely to His Will. Let it be so." He had no doubts as to what name he would take; he would be known henceforth as Pope Leo XIII in memory of Pope Leo XII who planted the seeds of a vocation in him back in the twenties. He also had a deep veneration for today's saint Pope Saint Leo the Great. White smoke billowed upward from the Vatican and the reign of another great Pope had begun.
The studious nature of this Pope would manifest itself throughout his reign as he issued more encyclicals and papal bulls than had been released over the previous two centuries. As we mentioned above, his most famous encyclical Rerum novarum, dealing with the working classes in respect to the communist manifesto, would become a landmark statement on the Church's universal stand against this evil peril. It was the same kind of vision and application another Pontiff who was elected exactly 100 years later - Pope John Paul II continued. The similiarities between John Paul II and Leo XIII are amazing. Both were elected in the year 78; both Popes exceptional scholars with the title "Teacher of the Nations;" both well-versed in many languages; both possessed a deep love and veneration for the Blessed Virgin Mary and were convinced of her intercession; both visionaries ahead of their time; and both came to office after a Vatican Council. Both took a sincere, heart-felt interest in America and both recognized and did something about the festering boil that would burst into full-blown atheistic communism. Leo XIII identified this growing malignancy before it took full form; one hundred years later John Paul II crushed it...especially in his beloved homeland of Poland where he grew up under a communistic regime. Both suffered through terrible conflicts - Leo with the war of the Papal States and John Paul with various wars thorughout the world on every continent with the worst being the war of abortion. Both had trouble with the French and German regimes in establishing the clergy without interference. Both emphasized the needs of the poor. In fact, Leo's words sound exactly like John Paul II's. Both issued a plethora of key encyclicals that have had an effect on society as a whole. Leo's were a forerunner for all the modern Popes which have been elevated to a higher level by John Paul's attention to all God's children in emphasizing human dignity and the Sanctity of Life.
Leo identified the Church's role in the world by stating that the Church is not only collectively, but individually identified with the masses. He emphasized the Scriptural message that all men are created equal, made in the image and likeness of God and destined for immortality. Yet there are differences and inequalities of condition, arising from mental, physical, material and psychological causes. He emphasized that no one should exploit or take advantage of those less fortunate and that social justice defines Christian principles in economic life as well. Sound familiar to what John Paul II has been promoting? Leo outlined the rights and duties of employer and employee while still emphasizing the dangers of socialism and communism. He introduced the concept of co-ops and the fruits of labor unions that were fair and loyal, providing benefits to maintain the Christian family life while still being equitable with the employer. Leo defined the role of the individual, the employer, employee, and the state. He even advocated that strikes were justifiable when God-given rights were violated or ignored, when lawful contracts were abused and when other abuses of a serious nature were invoked without a reasonable solution. The Solidarity movement in Poland was born out of this and promoted strongly by our present Vicar of Christ. While Leo XIII would come to be known as the "friend of the workingman," he was also fair to the employer and governments.
With Europe expanding to many foreign countries and often forcing their culture and economic standards on the natives, Leo became the champion of the people in turning to the missions to uphold the rights of the people being manipulated. He made the missions a priority, always taking a strong stand against slavery and sending missionaries to preach love and peace and educate the pagans on the principles of Jesus Christ. Through his inspiration, he was able to reorganize the Church in the Philippines with his encyclical Quae Mari Sinico in 1902. Under his guidance, the zeal for mission work spread throughout the world and fostered countless vocations. More religious orders were founded, preparing the priests and nuns for the massive job ahead of them in propagating the Faith to every nation.
Leo had inherited the problems of Pius IX who had ruled longer than any Pontiff in Church history save for Saint Peter himself. The once-proud Papal States had been reduced to a mere patrimony; persecution had intensified in Germany, Switzerland and Italy including the expulsion of many religious orders and the loyal German bishops; and, to make matters worse, there was a smear campaign against the Catholic press in Europe. Yet Leo mollified so many enemies of the Church just as John Paul II has done today. Leo was a peacemaker as well as a pioneer, reaching out to all nations. No Pope until Leo had given as much attention and concern to America as he did and, in turn, no Pope was more loved and respected by Americans and their bishops. It was Leo who convoked the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore with an emphasis on education with Cardinal James Gibbons presiding as Papal Legate. One of the mandates passed was that every parish would have a Catholic school. In addition, they drew up and promulgated the well-known and concise Baltimore Catechism which became the benchmark for Catholic teaching until it was shelved after the "spirit of Vatican II" succeeded in de-emphasizing it. Leo further opened communication with American Catholics by officially appointing an Apostolic Delegate to the United States for the first time ever.
Like John Paul II, Leo was blessed with interior visions and messages and was given a prophetic vision which has become so evident a century later. It has been related that one day late in his life, while in prayer in his papal chapel, Leo beheld a vision which made him shudder. He saw the devil and God, with satan lobbying for control. He asked God only for 100 years to do his nefarious task and God, in His infinite wisdom as we will only understand when we reach Heaven, allowed it. So shaken was the Holy Father that he was inspired by God to pen the powerful Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, mandating that it be said at the end of each Mass to protect us against the snares of the devil. Sadly, in these days when the evil one roams the earth in desperation as his days dwindle, the prayer has been abandoned by many...when we need it most!
Unlike his predecessor Pius IX who became virtually a recluse after the fall of the Papal States, Leo reached out through his encyclicals and papal bulls instilling a thirst for knowledge so teachers could help in seeking solutions for the problems of the day both in the Church and the world. He also promulgated documents and decrees on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, consecrating mankind to the Sacred Heart in 1899. He spread the importance of the Holy Rosary, conversion, and family togetherness in urging parents to dedicate their families to the Holy Family. He had a deep love and respect for Our Lady and illustrated this in all his writings in the same manner as our Polish Pontiff, who has dedicated his papacy to Mary, does today.
Leo XIII was able to see the dawn of the new century but he knew within his heart that he would not live to see any of the events he realized were inevitable. Leo died on July 20, 1903 in the midst of celebrating 25 years as Head of Holy Mother Church. A glorious era of Church renewal and respect had passed on with the passing of this beloved Pontiff and friend during his papal jubilee. But a new era would begin with the celebrated reign of his saintly successor Pope Saint Pius X.
Leo's regime was one of wisdom and love for all God's children. Volumes have been written on this wonderful, influential Supreme Pontiff but space does not permit us to include everything this holy Vicar of Christ accomplished and again we express regrets more voters didn't realize this for he truly deserves a much, much higher ranking. Suffice it to say, he prepared Holy Mother Church well for what lie ahead as satan set out on a 100-year quest to wrest souls from the loving embrace of Jesus and His Immaculate Mother Mary. Thanks to Leo XIII, the evil one's triumphs have not been as great as lucifer had assumed.