Irish priest who saved Jews in WWII honoured

An Irish priest who saved thousands of Jews and Allied soldiers during World War II has been honoured at the Vatican.

Msgr Hugh O’Flaherty disguised himself from Nazi secret police and set up safe houses in Rome between 1943 and 1944.

One of the safe houses was right next to the secret police’s main headquarters in Rome.

A plaque in his honour was unveiled at the Teutonic (German College) at the Vatican on Sunday.

A commemorative Mass was celebrated at the German College.

Msgr O’Flaherty became known as the “Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican”.

By using fake IDs, disguises and operating a communications network inside and outside the Vatican, he was able to outfox Nazi efforts to capture him.

The priest was able to give refuge to 6500 Jewish refugees and Allied POWs, hiding them in houses, convents and monasteries across Rome and even inside the Vatican itself.

Ironically, much of his clandestine operation was conducted from within the Vatican’s German College, where Mgr O’Flaherty lived for 22 years.

Speaking at the unveiling of the plaque, Ireland ambassador Emma Madigan said the priest’s compassion was not bounded by lines of nationality or religious community.

Quoting Pope Francis, she said there are people who “do not grow accustomed to evil. Who defeat it with good”.

She thanked Msgr O’Flaherty, who died in 1963, on behalf of all those he saved.

“There are occasions when quite ordinary people find themselves in very dark times. When people whose great passions are golf and Kerry football, find themselves, in Joyce’s phrase, in the midst of history that has become ‘a nightmare from which we are trying to awake’,” the ambassador said.

“Directed and sustained by his faith, he gave up the comfort and security he had, to try and lead as many people as possible out of that nightmare.”

“Happily for so many people, Mgr O’Flaherty united that faith and that compassion with apparently bottomless courage and resourcefulness.  Some would put that down to his Kerry roots!”


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