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Convent Our Lady of Sion is a new “House of Life”

28/09/2016: General House - Rome

On 21 September 2016 the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation marked as “House of Life” the former convent of Our Lady of Sion in Rome, now the headquarters of the prestigious Catholic University of America and the Catholic University of Australia.

David Dawson, director of both universities, said that “historical memory is important to understand the present and not fall into the mistakes of the past, particularly for the education of young people.”

Sister Oonah O’Shea, superior general of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion, recalled those terrible moments of the Second World War, when the monastery gates were opened to give shelter to many Jews persecuted by the fascist allies of the Third Reich.

“It was thanks to the courage of Virginia Badetti (Mother Superior Maria Agustina), Emilia Benedetti (Mother Marie-Agnes), both recognized with the honorary title of “Righteous among the Nations ” that more than two hundred people found a safe haven in this convent.”

Ferruccio Sonnino, (90 years), who hid in the convent from April to May 1944, until a few days before the arrival of the Allies, gave a moving testimony. “It was a very special period” said Sonnino, referring to the Nazi persecution. “The Italian people responded with great generosity. We must also recognize the role played by the Catholic church. It should be remembered and recognized. ”

In his speech, the President of the Jewish Community of Rome, Ruth Dureghello, said “Is very significant that this place today is an educational institution. Equally significant is that two of the hidden young Jews have become teachers in Hebrew schools. Both of them, present here today, have dedicated their lives to the future generations.”

Finally, Gabriele Rigano, a history professor at the University of Perugia, said that about 6,000 Jews were hidden in the city of Rome, inside about 160 religious institutions, with the help of individuals and parishes. It is a considerable number since in Rome there were about 14,000 Jews and were deported about 1,800, during the German occupation.

The commemorative “House of Life” plaque was presented by Silvia Costantini, European vice president of the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. Among those attending the ceremony were Rafael Erdreich, of the Israeli Embassy in Rome, Claudio Procaccia, director of the Department of Jewish Culture in Rome and Mrs. Elena Castelli, granddaughter of Sebastian Romero Radigales, Spanish diplomat, Righteous Among the Nations.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation