The dramatic and extraordinary story of a six-year-old Jewish boy from Bologna, secretly baptised as a baby by his Italian nursemaid, then taken to live in Rome in 1858 and raised as a Catholic despite an international outcry, is recounted by the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori in Kidnapped by the Vatican? The Unpublished Memoirs of Edgardo Mortara (Ignatius Press, 190pp, £12.99).
Messori makes a strong defence of the pope involved, Pius IX, and explains the event from a highly traditional Catholic perspective. Understandably, the matter is still deeply controversial today and the Church has been much criticised for its action at the time, not least by modern Catholic writers.
What is usually overlooked in the controversy is the behaviour and later life of Edgardo Mortara himself. Messori includes Mortara’s own memoirs of his childhood and subsequent life so that readers can make up their own minds based on the evidence.
Mortara was insistent that, although he loved his Jewish family and was sad to leave them, he never had any wish to return to Bologna after he had been taken away. Although not knowing of his baptism as a child, he relates how he had always been drawn to Catholic churches and public processions, how quickly he learnt to love the traditional Catholic prayers and how, educated by the Canons Regular of the Lateran, he chose to join the order as a priest when he became an adult.
He also says that he always venerated Pius IX as a second father, that he regarded the nursemaid who had baptised him on the point of death as his spiritual mother, and that he always had a special love for Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, as it was in 1858, the year he became a Catholic, that the apparitions at Lourdes took place.
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