On Scene with Bill Wilson and the Popes


Pope Francis during a General Audience in St Peter’s Square April, 2013. Photo by Bill Wilson

 The first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis provides me with an excuse to use one of my photos of the pontiff taken during my stay in Rome last April. I have been amused at his unpredictability and the lengths more conservative elements of the church (ex. Cardinal Dolan) go to explain what he really meant when he said….

But I leave to more knowledgeable church scholars the debate over the implications of Pope Francis’ first year. I’m just grateful for the opportunity I had to see him up close. As I looked back over the most recent history I found a reason to go back a hundred years. I recently purchased a postcard of Pope Pius X in the Vatican Gardens. It was sent from Rome to a Mrs. C. F. Biggert of Sayner, Wisconsin on August 8, 1914.


Postmarked 3- VIII – 1914 sent by a person with the initials HC. From the Collection of Bill Wilson

 The origins of World War I had their start in the July crisis of 1914. On June 28, of that year Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo. This event caused diplomatic maneuverings which ultimately involved all the European powers and  lead to World War I. That is what the writer of this postcard refers to when making the comment, “I planned to go up to Innsbruck in Austria & come down to sail from Trieste on the Adriatic, but the Austrian war will doubtless prevent.” And then after some personal remarks the writer adds a panicked post script, “I just learn that all ships are cancelled & we can’t leave Europe.” Did H. C. make it back to America? Unanswerable.



Pope Pius X walks in the Vatican Gardens. From the collection of Bill Wilson


I made a further discovery about the historical nature of this postcard when I looked up information about Pope Pius X. According to information I found on the internet, Pope Pius X became ill on August 15 and died on August 20, 1914. So when HC starts the post card with “We had an audience with the Pope last Sunday.”  that means it might have been the last public appearance or one of the  last public appearances of Pope Pius X. Did HC stay in Rome for the coronation of the new Pope?  Another unanswered question.

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