Statue of Pope Benedict XV, "The great Pope of the world tragedy...the benefactor of all people, irrespective of nationality or religion," in the courtyard of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Istanbul, placed there by the Turks due to the Pope's peace efforts during WWI.
In listening to the EPIC CDs, I learned a little bit about why Pope Benedict XVI chose the name Benedict, which he alluded to when he was chosen as Pope:
Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict. Firstly, I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples. Additionally, I recall Saint Benedict of Nursia, co-patron of Europe, whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe. I ask him to help us all to hold firm to the centrality of Christ in our Christian life: May Christ always take first place in our thoughts and actions!
But what did Pope Benedict XV do exactly?
He spoke out against facism, national socialism and communism -- having people be subjected to the whim of the State. He also spoke out way back then, during our grandfather's or great-grandfather's time, against relativism and modernism.
During the war, the Great War, his pontificate had three principles on how the Vatican would relate to the world.
1. Perfect neutrality, which meant that he wasn't publicly picking sides but didn't mean he didn't make a stand. His first encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, is so relevant that it could've been written by the current pontiff, being at the same time strong, pastoral, sympathetic and heralding, in part, much the same message that we heard from Our Lady at Fatima (which occurred while he was Pope). Here's one of several paragraphs that caught my eye:
Once the plastic minds of children have been moulded by godless schools, and the ideas of the inexperienced masses have been formed by a bad daily or periodical press, and when by means of all the other influences which direct public opinion, there has been instilled into the minds of men that most pernicious error that man must not hope for a state of eternal happiness; but that it is here, here below, that he is to be happy in the enjoyment of wealth and honour and pleasure: what wonder that those men whose very nature was made for happiness should with all the energy which impels them to seek that very good, break down whatever delays or impedes their obtaining it. And as these goods are not equally divided amongst men, and as it is the duty of authority in the State to prevent the freedom enjoyed by the individual from going beyond its due limits and invading what belongs to another, it comes to pass that public authority is hated, and the envy of the unfortunate is inflamed against the more fortunate. Thus the struggle of one class of citizen against another bursts forth, the one trying by every means to obtain and to take what they want to have, the other endeavouring to hold and to increase what they possess.
2. Extend charity to all. Pope Benedict XV arranged for prisoner exchanges and created a Vatican bureau to help prisoners of war, similar to what the Red Cross does today by being a go-between for military personnel and their families. He passed out financial aid during the war, according to EPIC, 5M Lira from the Vatican, along with over 30M Lira that was donated to the Church. Reportedly, he gave away so much money that the Vatican was broke and had to go into debt to pay for his funeral.
3. Constant call for peace. He also called for reduction of arms, spoke against particular weapons like poison gas, and against the deportation of workers. He also wrote another encyclical on peace and Christian reconciliation, Pacem, Dei Munus Pulcherrimum, saying peace should be granted without reparations.
He was also the Pope that canonized St. Joan of Arc during "the suicide of Europe," which is how he referred to the war, providing the Church and the world a great saintly example during such a devastating period.
Woodrow Wilson also incorporated some of Pope Benedict's ideas into his "Fourteen Points."
In light of this, I can begin to understand Pope Benedict XVI's recent encyclicals a little more clearly (he's has an incredible intellect) and why he has been much more pastoral and not heavy-handed during his pontificate, like so many thought he would be.