We can imagine Pope Francis having a affinity for and a devotion to today’s saint, Pope Pius X. Like Francis, Pius came from humble beginnings. Like Francis, Pius was often uneasy with the pomp of his new role. An old friend recalled coming to visit Pius after his election. He found the new pope in tears. “Look,” he said, gesturing to his rich vestments, “how they have dressed me up.”
Born Joseph Sarto, Pius was one of ten children, the son of a postman. He was a priest who knew and loved his people. Their needs and problems were familiar to him, and he did not disdain or dismiss the sorrows of the poor. He said of himself, “I was born poor, I lived poor, I will die poor.”
When Pius was elected pope in 1903, he was the first peasant to hold that office since the Middle Ages. Though uncomfortable with the splendor of the Vatican, Pius understood his authority and exercised it throughout the world. He denounced French attempts to nationalize church holdings. He called for fair treatment of indigenous workers on the plantations of Peru and he sheltered refugees using money from his own pocket.
He found the new pope in tears. “Look,” he said, gesturing to his rich vestments, “how they have dressed me up.”
The First World War broke out just as Pius’ twelfth year in the papacy began. It broke his heart. The parades and the flowers and the bright faces of the young men marching off to battle did not deceive him. He said, “This is the last affliction the Lord will visit on me. I would gladly give my life to save my poor children from this ghastly scourge.”
Pius died in the first weeks of the war.