Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903)
Having barely survived surgery for the removal of a diseased cyst, the ninety-year-old Leo XIII welcomed 350, 000 pilgrims to Rome for the Jubilee of 1900. Measured against the past century, the event was a success by virtue of the fact that it took place at all. The jubilees of 1800 and 1850 had been cancelled because the popes were either kidnapped or in exile. Pius IX refused to call a jubilee in 1875 to protest the capture of Rome by the armies of the House of Savoy.
With this history in mind, Pope Leo wrote two encyclicals to put the troubled century into perspective. In Tametsifutura, he characterized his pontificate as “difficult and anxious.”1 What “experience constantly shows,” he contemplated, is that “all our life on earth is the truthful and exact image of a pilgrimage.”2 In Annum sacrum, Leo dedicated the human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
When the Church, in the days immediately succeeding her institution, was
oppressed beneath the yoke of the Caesars, a young Emperor saw in the heav-
ens a cross, which became at once the happy omen and cause of the glorious
victory that soon followed. And now, today, behold another blessed and heav-
enly token is offered to our sight—the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross
rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendor amidst flames of love.
In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation
of men is to be confidently besought.3
Coming just a few years before the tattered monarchies of Europe committed cultural and military suicide in the trenches of World War I, Leo's admonition was prescient. Catholics should prepare themselves for a suffering king rather than a Constantine.
Leo's life bestrode one of the most traumatic centuries in the history of the papacy and the Catholic Church. At the time of Leo's birth in 1810,