The opening of the Vatican archives from the period of Pius XII (2 March 2020) offers a precious opportunity for those who wish to critically explore the ideas of "West" and "civilization" that Western Catholicism (European, North American and Latin American) has consciously or unconsciously conveyed throughout the pontificate of Pope Pacelli, in the most diverse areas. The breadth of published and unpublished sources currently available to scholars also suggests the opportunity to develop research on such wide-ranging topics by networking among academic institutions recognized on the international scene which, in the framework of stable collaboration and in respect of the widest freedom of scientific research, can share and integrate their respective competences in order to open up original and interdisciplinary research paths.
This is the aim of the international research project “Occidentes. Horizons and Projects of Civilization in the Church of Pius XII” , which puts at the service of a common historical research objective the scientific expertise of four universities (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Pontificia Università Gregoriana, University of Navarra, Universidade Católica Portuguesa), which are characterized as a whole by a wide range of methodological perspectives – from global history to economic and social history, from the history of international relations to the history of thought – and by the interest in a historiography capable of create dialogue between the local dimension of historical phenomena and global perspectives. The enclosed collaboration agreement expresses the conviction that a synergy between the respective research efforts – open from now on to the future contribution of other scholars – can represent an added value, enriching the work of individual researchers and placing it within an international horizon.
Over a period of four years, the project - whose scientific coordination is entrusted to professors Paolo Valvo, of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Fr. Roberto Regoli, of the Pontifical Gregorian University, Pablo Pérez López, of the Universidad de Navarra, Paulo Fernando de Oliveira Fontes, of the Universidade Católica Portuguesa - will focus on four areas of study: 1) The Holy See and the West in the post-war world order; 2) Civilization, inculturation, indigenist movements: on the borders of the West; 3) Church, Catholics and democracy: comparing experiences; 4) Lead the development. Catholics and socio-economic modernisation.
«The idea of the West has been the subject of the most diverse interpretations since ancient times, which have attempted to define its extension and limits both on a territorial and cultural level, in a crescendo of complexity especially since the discovery of the American New World» notes Paolo Valvo, professor of History of European civilisation and culture at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. «If at the beginning of the twentieth century the increasingly frequent recourse to the concept of "West" was functional to legitimize the symbolic passage of the torch from Europe to the United States as the moral guide of the so called "Western world", in the aftermath of the Second World War the processes of economic, political, cultural, and social globalization have helped to shape an idea of the West as an organic entity, animated by the same basic values, fueling an imagery that has been growing stronger during the Cold War decades».
In contrast to this homologating vision, the Catholic Church in its various articulations distinguished itself during the pontificate of Pius XII for a significant plurality of approaches, in Europe as in the Americas, contributing to keeping alive the dialectic between different ideas and models of the "West".
«In this regard, it is worth mentioning the insistence on an idea of substantial democracy and participation which, starting from the pontificate of Pius XII, began to characterize the reflection and action of the Catholic world. From another point of view, one can underline the critical attitude towards the capitalist system, which still during the Pius XII’s pontificate led in some cases - especially in Latin America - to imagine a "third way" between capitalism and collectivism» says Fr. Roberto Regoli, director of the Department of Church History at the Pontifical Gregorian University. «Against this background, the years of Pius XII (1939-1958) appear to be relevant – as regards the Catholic World and more specifically the Holy See – for the shaping of a peculiar approach to the international socio-political reality, starting from the European context, where the confrontation between the different ideas of the West is affected by the lacerations produced by the Second World War».