I have just spent a weekend absorbed in one of the most incredible books I have ever read. It is the story of Fr. Gereon Goldmann, a German Franciscan seminarian drafted into the dreaded SS during the Second World War. Without betraying his Catholic values and through truly unbelievable odds, Fr. Goldmann made his way through the war, administering to the German soldiers, as a medic and ultimately as a priest.
Through the unfailing prayers of a nun from his childhood and her sister religious, Fr. Goldmann was ordained through the personal intercession of Pope Pius XII, without having taken any theology training. Subsequently, in an Allied offensive in Italy, he was taken prisoner and spent two years in a dreaded camp in North Africa with hard-nosed Nazi prisoners as companions. He said Mass, preached sermons daily, gave philosophy and theology lessons, and gradually won back for Christ SS prisoners who had left their Christian faith. All this was done in the face of constant danger of death, but with a daring trust in God and complete selflessness.
A truly memorable scene in the prison camp is the Christmas Midnight Mass where he led a "pilgrimage to the crib" through the camp with hundreds of lit candles and a choir singing Christmas hymns. As he recounts: "It seemed for a while that there was no longer any war, no Nazis or Germans or Frenchmen, for we were all one in Christ."
In another scene, a prison inmate, a fanatical Nazi and persecutor of the Church, who had played a leadership role in Nazi Germany, came to Fr. Goldmann to go to confession and be readmitted to the Sacraments. However moved Fr. Goldmann was by this man's request, he knew that there must be public penance. So every Sunday for months the repentant soul stood before the altar (have I forgotten to say that Father Goldmann and a small band of prisoners had built a chapel on the grounds of the prison,) a poor penitent, an admitted sinner. "Finally came the Sunday when this Nazi acknowledged publicly before many hundreds of men...his guilt and his whole shameful history...he recounted the story of his return to the Church and asked for pardon. Then at last he received sacramental absolution and Holy Communion."
Equally gripping is the section on Father Goldmann's impending execution by the Allies as a hated Nazi leader (mistaken identity), followed by the end of the war and his return to his seminary in Germany where he completed his training.
Lest we think that this is the end of Fr. Goldmann's adventures, the epilogue recounts his life as a missionary in Japan. As "The Ragpicker of Tokyo", Fr. Goldmann established several parishes in Japan, led pilgrimages, was instrumental in seeing a number of his young, poor parishioners attain a university education, built homes for the poor, established a summer retreat for indigent mothers and children in the mountains, and much more. He was ultimately awarded the Order of Good Deeds by the President of Japan.
Through the book we witness Fr. Goldmann's deepening of his Catholic faith through unceasing and fervent prayer, and his sharing of that faith. He reminds us that God does not abandon us in our misery and loneliness. And in incredible circumstances, we witness the extraordinary workings of the Holy Spirit and the undying power of love, prayer, faith and sacrifice.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2000|
|Previous Article:||Where vocations thrive.|
|Next Article:||Preparing for the Jubilee.|
|Family. (Books for children: fiction).|
|Wham! Bam! Publishing.|
|Glover, Bonnie J. The Middle Sister: A Novel.|
|The Middle Sister.|