Introduction. A committee for the Irish poor had been established in Rome on 13 January 1847. The pope donated 1000 Roman Crowns from his Privy Purse. In addition to personal financial assistance to Ireland, Pius also offered spiritual and practical support. In March 1847, he took the unprecedented step of issuing a papal encyclical to the international Catholic community, appealing for support for the victims of the Famine. As a result of that appeal, large amounts of money were raised by Catholic congregations: the Vincent de Paul Society in France raised £5,000; the diocese of Strasbourg collected 23,365 francs; two priests in Caracas in Venezuela contributed £177; Father Fahy in Argentina sent over £600; a priest in Grahamstown in South Africa sent £70; and over £1,500 came from the Catholic community in Sydney in New South Wales. Despite the unprecedented intervention of the Pope, the Irish bishops neglected to thank him for his donation or for the encyclical letter until forced to do so by Paul Cullen. Cardinal Fransoni, an adviser to the Pope, was also angry at the inaction of the Irish bishops in raising funds for the relief of the poor, though he had given them official permission to do whatever was necessary. The apparent ingratitude of the Irish bishops and their internal wrangling lost them further vital support in Rome. The Pope’s concern and support for Ireland came to an abrupt end in 1848 when revolution in Italy forced him to flee Rome. Nevertheless, his brief interest proved to be a powerful encouragement to the international community of Catholics to provide support to Ireland. Reproduced below are documents relating to the Pope’s efforts on behalf of the distressed.
Document I. Pope Pius IX and the Irish Relief
Source. The Times (London), 20 May 1847.
Among the many instances of public and private liberality which the distress in Ireland has called forth, it will be interesting to hear the following one of the present distinguished and excellent Pope Pius IX who, on being asked for an autograph to be exhibited at one of the numerous bazaars held in this country for the relief of the suffering, wrote a letter, scritta di sua mano [written in his own hand], for that purpose, accompanying it with a beautiful rosary of agates, and a carnelian medallion, engraved with the head of our Saviour, pendant from it.
Document II. Appeal of Pius IX to the Universal Church
Source.Translated from Pius IX, Pontificis Maximi Acta (Rome 1847).
… that the fact that the Irish kingdom, being short of grain and other food, we turn towards it in charity, and that people is oppressed by the most terrible and foul distress from the lack of food, we will generously and continually do all we can, in every way possible to us, to give aid to this people in danger.
Also, in this city of Rome, we will order public prayers and collections and exhort the clergy and people of Rome and Roman Catholics to come to the aid of Ireland. At this time of our plenty, they are suffering: we will subsidise them.
Tell the Archbishops and clergy of Ireland to pray for the people with us and remember them daily. We will work continually for them since they have always been devoted to the Apostolic See. Through great difficulties in that country, the Catholic religion has always been taught, and the priests of Ireland have always cared about the people and given honour through us to St Peter. …
We also commend most powerfully to you that whenever you utter prayer for Ireland at the appointed times, you add also prayers to God for the universal church.