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Saints, Blesseds, Martyrs.

The following is a compilation of beatifications and canonizations which have taken place in Rome during the last few months. The first part relates the canonization of St. Faustina Kowaiska (April 30) and the beatification of two of the three children who received messages from Our Lady in Fatima in ]917(May 13). A beatification requires one proven miraculous intervention; canonization requires an additional miracle.

The second part covers first the beatification of a mixed group of 44 martyrs (March 5). Because it mentions the execution of some Polish nuns, we have expanded into a brief survey and description of the rescue of Jews by religious during World War Two.

On May 7, the Church honoured many so-called New Martyrs of the 20th century including those from other faith communities and those who were killed not because of the faith but for their commitment to justice. This leads to a brief discussion about "who is a martyr?" and a further explanation of who all finds a place among these martyrs.

On May 21 the Holy Father canonized a group of Mexicans put to death for the Catholic Faith during the revolution of the 1920s. The story reaches back to 1996 when Pope John Paul beatified a number of Spaniards, victims of the Civil War which lasted three years, from 1936 -39.

Finally, we turn once more to World War II and to the beatifications of two Austrian priests. We close with a few little news items. Editor

Francisco & Jocinta Marto

On May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta Marto, the two shepherd children who, together with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, now 93 and a contemplative nun, saw the Virgin and received heavenly messages in 1917.

Much has been written on the events at Fatima, and there has been great speculation about the so-called "third secret." In fact, few know the depth of the content of this mysterious experience that seems to cover most of the great events of the 20th century. To help in its reconstruction, the book Reportage of Fatima has been published by Ancora, but to date it is only available in Italian. It is written by a father/son team of journalists, Renzo and Roberto Allegri. The writers collected important testimonies in Portugal, making the story of the little shepherds very timely.

The apparitions began on May 13, 1917, and were repeated on the 13th of every month until October of the same year. The three children said they saw "a Lady dressed in white" who left them with a profound sense of peace. Nobody believed them. They were confined and isolated because of their insistence in repeating the story.

The best known of the apparitions, that of July 13, is the one of the famous "secret": a message that the "Lady" confided to the three children, forbidding them to disclose it. A few years later, Lucia received permission to reveal the message, following two new apparitions in the convent of Tuy, Spain. In 1927, the "Lady" told her she could give the first two parts of the message to the Church; in 1941, she gave permission for the last part to be made known, the famous "third secret," but only to the Pope.

Of the Fatima message, therefore, we only know the first two parts. The first is the revelation of Hell. The second warned that the First World War was about to end, but that an "even worse" one would follow, announced as "a night illuminated by an unknown light." The Blessed Mother called for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Those seeking an interpretation of the "unknown light" found it in the great aurora borealis that illuminated the whole sky of Europe on the night of January 24-25, 1938, more than a month before the start of the Nazi occupation of Austria.

As regards the consecration of Russia to "the Immaculate Heart of Mary," the request was not completed for almost 60 years. It was John Paul II who responded in 1984 in St. Peter's. Seven years later, the Soviet flag in the Kremlin, symbol of religious persecution, was lowered.

There would not have been so much talk about Fatima but for the fact that during the last apparition on October 13, 1917, an event occurred which made the visionaries story "credible." On that day, some 70,000 people, including police and military of the security service gathered, as well as special reporters from anti-religious newspapers like O Seculo and O Dia, having arrived to demolish the "superstition." They all returned converted as they witnessed the famous "dance of the sun," a phenomenon that lasted several minutes, which was not registered by the astronomical observatories, but was seen for dozens of kilometers away.

The miracle necessary for the beatification of the two children was provided by Maria Emilia Santos, a woman who was cured on February 20, 1989, after 22 years of being bed-ridden with paralysis.

An interview with Joao Marto, brother of the two visionaries, is also important. Joao died in April 2000 at 94. He tells how for two years he did not believe in the story of his two siblings. But he changed his mind when Francisco and Jacinta became ill and died. The three visionaries had said immediately after the apparitions that the "Lady" had told them that Francisco and Jacinta would die soon, while Lucia would remain "a long time on earth."

These are stories of apparitions, miracles, and children who offer their lives for the conversion of sinners. It all seems incomprehensible, even absurd to the ears of non-believers. But it is very much in line with the opposite perspective, which is that of the Gospel, where the blessed are the last and where truth is revealed to the pure and simple of heart (Zenit).

Update! Third secret revealed!

Fatima--On the day of beatification, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, gave a brief statement describing the contents of the third vision/secret. "The 'bishop clothed in white' makes his way with great effort toward the cross amid the corpses of those who were martyred. He, too, falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire" he reported to a gathering of 600,000 pilgrims in the Fatima sanctuary.

The Cardinal said that a complete description of the vision will soon be published by the Vatican "after the preparation of an appropriate commentary." Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who shot the Pope in 1989 said at his trial in 1985 that his attack was "connected to the third secret of the Madonna of Fatima."

Sister Faustina Kowaiska

Vatican City--On April 30 Pope John Paul II canonized Blessed Sister Faustina Kowalska, the young Polish nun who died in 1938 and who received messages from Jesus on the devotion to the Divine Mercy. Sister Faustina was directed under obedience to record her revelations and her diary, Divine Mercy in my Soul, is an account of her mystical insights. It was suppressed by the Holy See after her death, and not until the Pope, as Cardinal of Krakow, appointed a commission to study these revelations were Sr. Faustina's writings found to be theologically sound. The Vatican withdrew its objections in 1978, and from then on the message of Divine Mercy was propagated throughout the world.

Who is Sister Faustina?

Fr. George Kosicki

On the Sunday after Easter, April 30, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sister Faustina Kowaiska of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Who was Sister Faustina? On the surface, nobody special. Born in Poland in 1905, she joined the convent at 20 and humbly served as cook, gardener and doorkeeper. She died of tuberculosis at 32. A brief and hidden life, but God had chosen her for a unique mission: to proclaim His mercy to the modern world.

The insights this simple nun received from the Lord about His great mercy were so powerful that she was ordered (by Our Lord Himself and by her spiritual director) to record them in a diary. She had received only two years of formal schooling, so she was terrified at the prospect of writing anything. But in obedience, she forced herself to begin. The resulting diary of some 600 pages still astounds theologians and is considered by many to equal the Dialogue of Catherine of Siena and the autobiography of Teresa of Avila.

What does the canonization of a simple Polish nun signify to you and me, to the Church and the world? It means, first of all, that the Church is officially presenting Sister Faustina as a powerful intercessor with our Merciful Saviour and as a model for us to imitate. Like Saint Theresa, "the Little Flower", she predicted that her mission would continue after her death.

By her life of complete trust in God's infinite mercy, she shows us both how to receive mercy and how to radiate it out to others by deed, word and prayer. By her humble obedience to the will of God, in all the humdrum duties of life and in the midst of great sufferings and humiliations, she witnesses to us, in our modern age, a practical way of holiness. And by the continuous, intimate union of her heart with the Merciful Heart of Jesus, she demonstrates how to balance action with contemplation.

But, more than just offering us another role model, the canonization of Sister Faustina calls our attention to the message at the heart of her life and writings--a message of great import for us all. We look out each day on a world where there is no peace; no peace among nations, in our cities, in our families; no peace at all in our hearts.

What answer does Our Lord give Sister Faustina? "Mankind will have no peace until it turns with trust to my mercy" (Diary 301).

This theme of trust and mercy is hardly new. It's simply the Gospel message. But it comes to us, through the life and writings of this simple nun, with a new intensity and focus, a fresh urgency. We are all burdened. God wants to heal our miseries with His mercy. But He so respects our free will that He won't violate it. He waits for our free act of trust, which gives him permission to pour out His mercy on us.

And He excludes no one. This is perhaps the most powerful element of the Divine Mercy message. Over and over in the diary, we hear Our Lord insisting that nothing--no sin, no situation--can keep us from receiving His mercy if we turn to Him with trust.

"On the cross, the fountain of my mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls--no one have I excluded" (1182) ... "Let no soul fear to draw near to me, even though its sins be as scarlet" (699)... "My mercy is greater than your sins" (1485)... "I never reject a contrite heart" (1485).

The day chosen for Sister Faustina's canonization on (the Sunday after Easter) is itself of great significance, because it is the day Our Lord told her He wanted the world to celebrate as the Feast of Mercy--a day of unimaginable graces, a day on which the very floodgates of mercy will be opened for all who turn to Him with trust.

So, above all, this canonization is an invitation to recognize more completely that God is love and to join sister Faustina in her continuous prayer: "Jesus , I trust in you."

Editor: Sister Faustina's canonization on April 30 in St. Peter's Square, Rome, was attended by 200,000 pilgrims, many from her homeland of Poland. Many more Poles followed the ceremony telecast on huge screens in a field near the Divine Mercy Shrine outside Krakow. The Holy Father in his homily described her as "a bridge of hope between the past and the future." Among those present at the canonization was an American priest, Father Ronald Pytel, whose recovery from a life-threatening heart condition has been attributed to the intervention of Blessed Faustina. In Father Pytel's Baltimore parish church, Holy Rosary, pride of place is given to the Divine Mercy mural, representing Our Lord with Sister Faustina.

Father Kosicki was formerly administrator of Divine Mercy International at the Marian Helpers Centre in Stockbridge, Mass. The Diary of Sister Faustina and other materials about Sister Faustina and the Divine Mercy Message are available from the Divine Mercy Centre of Canada, RR #1, Clarksburg, ON, N0H 1J0, tel: 1-800-461-9254 or (519) 599-7318.

Jubilee Year recognizes many martyrs

March 5

Vatican--On March 5, Pope John Paul II beatified 44 martyrs for the faith. These first Jubilee Year beatifications came from all over the world, and from both this and past centuries.

While the blessed died in various ways and diverse circumstances, they all "gave their life out of love for God and a faith that was utterly coherent with their belief in the Gospel message," the Pope said.

Among the new blessed are Polish Sister Maria Stella Mardosewicz and her nine religious companions of the Holy Family of Nazareth, executed by the Gestapo August 1, 1942, some five kilometers from Nowogrokek, in present-day Belarus. The nuns were killed because they offered their lives on behalf of 120 Polish prisoners, many of whom were heads of families, who were likely to be executed. The 120 were freed or deported, and all but one of the religious of that community perished.

Also beatified was Nicholas Bunkered Kitbamrung, a priest from Thailand who tirelessly proclaimed the Gospel in pioneer territory along the Laos border. He died in 1944 of tuberculosis, virtually abandoned, although in hospital, because he was a Catholic.

Polish religious who saved Jews

Following the beatifications of March Sand the mention of the Polish Sisters, another view, this one from the Jewish side, throws more light on conditions in Poland during World War II.

A 1962 survey by Poland's Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski concluded that virtually every convent in the country had at some time sheltered fugitive Jews, mostly women and children. Particular help was given by sisters from the Ursuline, Franciscan, Discalced Carmelite and Resurrection orders.

Latin-rite Catholic male orders also sheltered Jewish fugitives, but the role played by nuns has always been best remembered. Some historians attribute this to circumstances of the time. Male communities were generally smaller than women's communities and were watched more closely by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police. It was easier to hide in convents, which often had schools and orphanages attached.

Jews honour nuns

Seventeen Polish nuns have been honoured with "Righteous Among Nations" medals for saving Jews during World War II. The cases of at least 189 Jews who were helped by nuns have been documented. Many more cannot be documented because witnesses have died.

In 1995, for example, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters Bronislawa Hryniewicz and Stanislawa Jozwikowski were posthumously awarded "Righteous Among Nations" medals. These medals are issued by Israel's National Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem.

Lack of documentation

Some historians believe more Catholic priests could be honoured, too, if their wartime efforts were better documented. However, several prominent cases have been recognized.

In Poland, up to a dozen Catholic priests have been considered for the medals. They include Father Marceli Godlewski who hid Jews at his parish house close to the embattled Warsaw Ghetto, and Father Julian Chroscicki, who died helping Jews obtain non-Jewish identification cards.

Virtually all recommendations for the medal have been rejected because no living witnesses could be found, a Yad Vashem stipulation. But in 1990 the award was given to two priests: Father Adam Stalmark, now living in Austria, and Father Aleksander Osiecki, who was honoured posthumously for saving Jews in his Debica parish. In 1994, the list was extended to include its first Catholic bishop, retired Polish Auxiliary Bishop Albin Malysiak.

In 1943, while serving as chaplain at a home for the disabled run by Ursuline nuns in Nazi-occupied Krakow, Poland, Father Malysiak obtained fake birth certificates that enabled five fugitive Jews to be admitted. Their identities were known to staff and patients, but all five survived the war thanks to the priest and Sister Bronislawa Wilemska, the home's Ursuline director.

"Neither of us believed we were doing anything heroic or courageous. Our only concern was to be efficient about it," Bishop Malysiak said. "In hiding Jews, we were simply following the voice of our consciences. All we wanted was to fulfill Christ's evangelical command to love your neighbour."

That attitude was shared by Sister Wilemska, who was given the "Righteous Among Nations" medal posthumously with 15 other Polish citizens in January 1996.

Overall view

One can say that almost 1,000 sisters helped Jews. It is hard to say exactly how many Jews were rescued by nuns, but the number exceeds 1,200. Because adult Jews often received advice from convents about where to find hiding places and other types of assistance, it becomes even harder to fix an exact number of beneficiaries. Among the 70 persons killed for having helped Jews, several dozen were nuns. To date (January 2000), 14,704 people have received the "Righteous Among the Gentiles" medal from Israel for saving Jews. Of that number, 4,954 are Polish, including 16 nuns and five priests. (Sources: CNS, Nov/07; National Catholic Reporter, April 30, 2000)

Church honours 20th century witnesses to faith

On Sunday, May 7, a variety of men and women, including 12,792 of a new martyrology, were honoured as witnesses to the faith, having sacrificed their lives for it in the course of the 20th century. The new "martyrology" is being compiled by the "New Martyrs" Commission established by the Holy Father for the Jubilee and presided over by Ukrainian-rite Bishop Michel Hrynshyshyn, a Canadian. The Commission is carrying out research throughout the world.

The ceremony, held fittingly in the Colosseum at Rome, took the form of an ecumenical commemoration, including some celebrated Orthodox and Protestant people who made the supreme sacrifice for their beliefs. Representatives of 19 different faith communities were in attendance. Of particular significance was the attendance of a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has in the past boycotted some papal events.

The large number of Catholics included thousands--sometimes nameless--martyrs who became victims of Communism, Nazism and Fascism, or of other state persecution and terrorism throughout the world. The service paid tribute to Christians who died in the Spanish Civil War and the Mexican Revolution. Many of them were persecuted and died because of hatred towards the Catholic Faith.

The thousands of people who attended the service heard accounts of Christians who suffered persecution and death around the world. The high-profile names of those honoured included Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated by a right-wing death squad in San Salvador in 1980; Aldo Moro, a former Italian prime minister murdered in Rome; and American civil rights crusader Martin Luther King Jr. Included also were Paolo Borsellino and Rosario Livatino, two Italian judges killed by the Mafia in Sicily in 1990.

Also honoured was Russian Orthodox Patriarch Tichon, who defied the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution and Olga Jafa, a Russian teacher sent to the Soviet Gulag. Tribute was paid to Albanian Catholic priest Anton Luli who spent 42 years in prison under enforced labour, and to Paul Schneider, a Lutheran priest who opposed the Nazis and was sent to Buchenwald. He suffered 14 months of solitary confinement, and died in 1939, a victim of torture and medical experimentation.

Margaret Chou was also honoured. A Chinese Catholic who refused to join the Communist-backed patriotic church which does not recognize the Pope's authority, Margaret spent 21 years in prison and labour camps.

Also remembered in a prayer read in Czech were the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Who is a martyr?

The inclusion of people not killed directly for the Faith has raised questions about what it means to be a martyr. Traditionally the Church has understood martyrs to be those killed out of a hatred for the Faith, in Latin, odium fidei. But this does not apply to those killed for other reasons such as Archbishop Oscar Romero or Martin Luther King.

However, as Canon Greenacre pointed out in The Tablet, their example mirrors that of St. Alphege in the 11th century (April 8). Alphege, a Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, was slain by the Vikings while defending his people's rights against them. Lanfranc, a later Norman appointee to the See, suppressed his cult among the local people, but was persuaded to reinstate it because St. Anselm (1033-1109) pointed out that Alphege died in the cause of justice and truth (odium iustitiae). To die for justice is to die for truth and so should be counted as martyrdom.

Inclusion among those honoured on May 7 does not exclude the possibility that some of them such as Archbishop Oscar Romero, may be beatified at a later date when the requirements for beatification are met.

New Martyrs

The following is excerpted from an interview with Fr. Marco Gnavi, secretary of the Jubilee New Martyrs Commission, and published by Zenit International News Service, May 7,00.

"In our own century the martyrs have returned, many of them nameless, 'unknown soldiers,' as it were, of God's great cause. As far as possible, their witness should not be lost to the Church." (Pope John Paul II, The Coining of the Third Millennium 1994)

The New Martyrs Commission was formed in 1996. The term "martyr" was understood in its broader Greek meaning of "witness", rather than in its more precise meaning in the Church, that of a witness who shed his blood, and who has official Church approval in the form of beatification or canonization.

The research was undertaken because Pope John Paul II himself called for this work in preparation for the Great Jubilee of 2000. He witnessed the tragedies linked with Nazi and Communist totalitarianism; he saw the sufferings of his own Polish people. This led him to perceive that the evil of Christian martyrdom in the 20th century could bring good if it were preserved as a heritage. He explicitly asked the Commission to prepare a register of witnesses to the faith in the 20th century.

The Commission received documentation on more than 12,000 Christian martyrs from bishops' conferences and religious congregations. It put together a "geography" of testimony and suffering, of crimes against the faith. This includes shrines and churches defaced and revealed traces of resistance by defenceless men and women. These testimonies came from at least 80 countries and were written in five different languages. They were translated, analyzed, and ordered.

The Commission's work is far from complete. Relatively speaking, 12,000 stories are too few. In the Soviet Union alone, it is estimated that over one million Christians went to their death, many of whom will remain nameless. As for the documentation, it is not homogeneous; research and study must continue. The first acknowledgment is only a beginning, and certainly not exhaustive, if nothing else because Christians today are still persecuted.

In the "geography of suffering", there is a preponderance of European experience, which corresponds, on one hand, to the historical weight of Communist and Nazi persecution and, on the other, to the structural capacity of the Churches, which in Europe are better equipped for transmitting memories.

The Commission has also received considerable testimony from Asia: in China, martyrdom overflows into the 21st century since it continues today. Then there are chapters connected with religious persecution against Armenians, and the cases of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. It has also collected considerable material from Africa, from the beginning of the last century and the recorded experiences of missionaries. There, too, there have been more recent martyrs in conflicts since 1989, when missionaries chose to remain and opposed ethnic hatred with Christian love, and died for this. On the other hand, little information has come from Latin America.

What is new about these examples of modern martyrdom? In the 20th century there are cases that differ from classical martyrdom as, for example, the Little Sisters from Bergamo, Italy, who died while on mission in Zaire. They contracted the Ebola virus. They were not put to death, but their loving witnesses to the end cannot be questioned. They were aware of the risk they were taking when they chose to remain and look after the patients struck by this lethal and highly contagious sickness. For these Sisters, it was better to love and die, than to live and not love: this was their message and it is very powerful.

Twentieth-century martyrdom spells out a message of love and the Gospel. It is always a choice for life, not death. Charity lived by missionaries and non-missionaries in ordinary conditions, in different situations, is often dangerous and can lead to death. The new martyrs show us how to live the Beatitudes in our day. These religious and lay people, men and women belonging to different Churches and communions, tell us that it is worth opposing evil with daily choices of love, charity, reconciliation and fidelity to the Gospel. Their example is a pressing call to have the courage of our Christian convictions, not to be afraid to exercise Christian virtues; it is a call to unity in faith in Christ.

May 21 Mexican Martyrs

On May 21, the Holy Father canonized Blessed Cristobal Magallanes and his 24 companions, martyrs who died during the Mexican Revolution in the 1920s. The 24 priests and lay people are part of a group of Blesseds (beati) proclaimed by the Pope between 1988 and 1992.

The persecution of the Church in Mexico, between 1911 and 1940, was so harsh that Pope Pius XI compared it to the first Christian centuries. Photographs of the period show chilling pictures of priests dressed in vestments with their hands joined in prayer, about to be shot by army firing squads.

Not one of the martyrs was tried; not one of them was condemned for a proven crime; not one was treated legally.

The martyrs had three things in common: love for the Eucharist (a number died while saying Mass); devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe; and service to the poor and a commitment to social justice, which enraged the Marxists even more.

The effects of the revolution on the Mexican Church have been portrayed eloquently in Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory.

In the 2000 years of the Church's history, two thirds of all martyrs died in the 20th century (close to 27 million out of a total of 40 million). Again, the term "martyr" here is used in a very broad sense; most of these have never been beatified or canonized nor likely will they be.

New Spanish martyrs

Robert Royal, whose new book The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century will soon be published by Crossroads publishing house, points out that of the 20th-century martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II so far, it is no surprise that the great majority resulted from the civil war in Spain. In 1996, before the wave of beatifications and canonizations associated with the Jubilee Year began, of the 266 martyrs he beatified, 218 were Spaniards.

Writing in the American weekly newspaper, the National Catholic Register, April 16, 2000, Royal points out that most people who have even heard of the Spanish Civil War have been led to believe that it was a conflict between democratic, freedom-loving Republicans on the one hand and Nationalists (Falange) led by General Francisco Franco on the other. Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia portray the war in that light, though both have the decency to admit that widespread murder of Catholics took place.

Thousands of idealists from other nations volunteered to fight on the side of the Republicans in 'International Brigades.'

Canada sent the MacKenzie-Papineau battalion consisting of Communists and Stalinist sympathizers. In 1994 Bob Rae, as Ontario Premier, dedicated a plaque to them mounted on a large stone outside the Ontario Legislature.

Royal goes on to note that "Franco's forces were characterized as reactionary and authoritarian Catholics. But at the time, no western nation supported the Republicans, precisely because of their anti-religious atrocities." Only the Soviet Union, then closely allied with the Spanish Republicans and the Mexican revolutionaries, backed Republican Spain."

Thus, in one of Europe's most staunchly Catholic countries, large numbers of Catholics were butchered solely for being Catholic. Unlike the martyrdoms in most parts of the world, whole sectors of the religious community were liquidated. The number of priests and religious who were martyred, including 13 bishops, is 6,832. In the 20th century, no Western country witnessed so much bloodshed among its clergy, thought Poland was to come close during the years 1939-1945.

The male religious martyred included 259 Claretians, 226 Franciscans, 204 Piarists, 176 Brothers of Mary, 165 Christian Brothers, 155 Augustinians, 132 Dominicans, and 114 Jesuits. The toll among the female orders was lower, but still shocking when we recall that these women could have had virtually nothing to do with the political struggle: 30 Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, 26 Carmelites of Charity, 26 Adoratrices, and 20 Capuchins, along with many others.

The greatest fury fell upon the diocesan clergy, though it varied a great deal from one place to another. Pamplona, a Nationalist and pro-Catholic stronghold, had no diocesan casualties. Barbastro in Aragon saw 123 of its 140 priests lost to the violently anti-clerical Republican anarchists. Elsewhere, too, the pattern reflected the fortunes of war. Seville was captured early by the Nationalists and therefore lost only four priests. But the other large cities that remained in Republican hands for the duration of the war had far higher casualty figures: Barcelona, 279; Valencia, 327; Madrid-Alcala, 1,118. In percentage terms, these represented 22 per cent, 27 per cent and 30 per cent of the diocesan clergy in those cities, respectively.

Remarkably, most of the murders were carried out in the first six months of the war. Probably half of all clergy were, within a week of the Nationalist uprising, protected. Without the Nationalist uprising, the slaughter would have been much greater. As it was, about a quarter of the male clergy in Republican-controlled areas disappeared.

Almost none of them gave up the faith when they were threatened with death. Their steadfastness is even more remarkable in that they were subjected to almost unprecedented tortures and abuse. At times, these took bizarre forms: besides the usual mayhem, in several instances priests were killed and had their ears cut off and passed around as trophies--as if they had been bulls killed in a Spanish bullfight. In another place a dozen monks had their lips stitched together before being killed. Their witness demonstrates that the claims that the Spanish Church was corrupt and deserved harsh treatment were utterly false. They were sincere and heroic men and women.

Nor were lay people spared. One of the more impartial analysts of the Spanish Civil War, Jose M. Sanchez, has described their plight as follows: "An incalculable number of lay persons were killed because of their religious associations, either as well-known church-goers, members of fraternal and charitable religious organizations, or as the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends of clerics. (National Catholic Register, April 16)

Nazi persecution

1996: two more beatifications

The following two martyrs are examples of two Austrian priests whose sacrifices had remained unknown to the outside public for almost 40 years after their death. The names of most priests who died in concentration camps like Dachau-which camp by December 1942 counted almost 3000 priest prisoners from all over Europe but especially from Poland--were all known by the mid-fifties. Some have been beatified or canonized, such as St. Maximilian Kolbe (a Polish Franciscan who died in Auschwitz in 1942, canonized in 1992), Blessed Titus Brandsma (a Dutch Carmelite who died in Dachau in 1943, beatified in 1985), Blessed Msgr. Bernard Lichtenberg (a German diocesan priest who died a prisoner in a cattle car on a train going to Dachau in 1943, beatified in 1996), Blessed Karl Leisner (ordained in Dachau by French bishop Gabriel Piquet, a fellow prisoner, who died in 1945, beatified in 1996), as well as others.

But the history of the following two priests--both Austrians--is very much like that of their countryman, Franz Jagerstatter, a married man and father of three children, who was executed in Berlin in 1942 for refusing to join the army. Jagerstatter is now being recognized as an exceptional martyr whose fellow citizens as well as his spiritual advisors rejected his stand both during his life and for decades afterwards as altogether unwise and foolish. It is only fairly recently that his home town St. Radegund has begun to honour him and that the Church has taken a new look at him. This development is the result mainly of the work of American Catholic sociologist Gordon Zahn, who published an account of Jagerstatter 's life, In Solitary Witness.

Similarly, the superiors and fellow religious confreres of the two priests described below, rejected their stand as extreme and bizarre. This lingered on long after the close of the war and explains the slow progress of their cause.

Blessed Otto Neururer

Otto Neururer was born on March 25, 1882 in Pilfer, Austria. He had brilliant intellectual talents but was rather timid. By temperament he did not seem destined to the life of a hero.

He was a curate and teacher of religion in many places. At the beginning of the century ideological and social tensions arose in Tirol both in political and ecclesiastical circles. Fr. Neururer, who had fully understood the message of the papal encyclical, Rerum novarum (1891), joined the Christian Social Movement. This decision caused problems with his superiors who in general adhered to more conservative views. The difficulties which resulted caused Fr. Neururer acute suffering but they never affected his great priestly zeal.

In 1938 the Nazis occupied Austrian Tirol. Their takeover triggered the first bloody persecution of the Church in the history of Austria. This persecution was particularly brutal because the Nazis sensed a strong ideological resistance on the part of the Tirolean faithful. Thousands of people were harrassed, had their civil rights curtailed, were subjected to interrogation by the Gestapo, and were thrown into prisons and concentration camps, included many priests.

At that time Otto Neururer, who had left Tirol, was parish priest in Gotzens, a village near Innsbruck. Moved by a strong sense of priestly responsibility, he advised a girl not to marry a divorced man who was leading a notoriously dissolute life. This intervention of the parish priest brought the revenge of the Nazi authorities. The man who had been rejected by the girl happened to be a personal friend of the Gauleiter, the highest Nazi authority, in Tirol.

Neururer was arrested on the charge of "slander to the detriment of German marriage" and interned first in the concentration camp of Dachau and later in Buchenwald. The sadistic tortures to which he was subjected caused incredible suffering, but even so he shared his scarce food ration with prisoners who were even weaker than himself. In the Buchenwald camp he was approached by a prisoner who asked to be baptized. Perhaps he was an agent provocateur. Neururer suspected that the request could be a trap, but his sense of duty did not allow him to refuse. Two days later he was transferred to the much feared "bunker", which in concentration camps was a place of capital punishment. There he was hanged upside down until he died on May 30, 1940. Neururer was the first priest killed in a concentration camp which explains why his mortal remains were brought to a private crematorium. The ashes, placed in an urn and sent to Gotzens by this crematorium, are authentic, as further painstaking investigations also show. The urn, in a gold mounting, will now be placed under the altar of the parish church of Gotzens.

Blessed Jakob Gapp

Jakob Gapp was born on July 26, 1897, in Wattens, a small village in the Austrian Tirol. He was called to military service in May 1915 and served on the Italian front. After the war he entered the International Marianist Seminary in Fribourg, Switzerland, and was ordained to the priesthood there on April 5, 1930.

Returning to Austria, he worked until 1938 as a teacher, director of religious education, and chaplain in Marianist schools. During a time of severe unemployment, Fr. Gapp's great concern for the poor appeared in many ways. He collected food and other necessities from his students, but also refused to heat his own room in the winter to be able to give fuel to the poor.

In this period, as National Socialism (Nazism) began to assert itself, first in Germany and then in Austria, Fr. Gapp formed a clear judgement about the incompatability of Nazism and the Christian faith. He was aware of the German bishops' statements against Nazism of 1931 and 1933 and, later on, of the 1938 Encyclical Mit brennender sorge of Pope Pius XI. In his teaching and preaching he continued to emphasize this truth fearlessly. Some pupils of his told a school inspector in October 1938 how Fr. Gapp had talked to them of the Gospel message of brotherly love and their obligation to love "Frenchmen, Czechs, Jews and Communists alike, as they were all human beings." He insisted: "God is your God, not Adolf Hitler."

When German troops arrived in March 1938, he was obliged to leave Graz. After a few months at Freistadt his superiors sent him to his home town in Tirol, since they saw in his anti-Nazi preaching a threat to the existence of their institutions. In Tirol he enjoyed the last moment of peace in his life. He had been an assistant pastor in Breitenwang-Reutte for only two months when the Gestapo, at the end of October 1938, forbade him to teach religion. Fr. Gapp had taught the uncompromising law of love for all men and women without reference to nationality or religion.

In a sermon on December 11, 1938, he defended Pope Pius XI against the attacks of the Nazis, and directed the faithful of the parish to read Catholic literature rather than Nazi propaganda. After this sermon Jakob Gapp was advised to leave the country.

With the help of his religious superiors Fr Gapp escaped to Bordeaux, France, where he worked at the cradle of the Society of Mary as a chaplain and librarian. In May 1939 he went to Spain, where he served in the Marianist communities at San Sebastian, Cadiz and Valencia. In Spain he stood alone and misunderstood because of his rejection of Nazism.

The Gestapo, having kept track of him since he left Austria, took advantage of his isolation. Two individuals pretending to be Jews from Berlin told Fr Gapp about the (fictitious) experience of fleeing from Nazi persecution. In Valencia they asked him to instruct them in the Catholic faith. After gaining his confidence, they invited him on a trip, and then abducted him across the border into German-occupied France.

Fr. Jakob Gapp was arrested on November 9, 1942 in Hendaye, France, and brought to Berlin. On July 2, 1943, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he was condemned to death. Any pardon and the transfer of his remains to his relatives for simple burial were denied because, the decree ordered, he had "defended his conduct on expressly religious grounds." Hence,

"for an explicitly religious people Fr. Gapp would be considered a martyr for the faith, and his burial could be used by the Catholic population as an opportunity for a silent demonstration in support of an already judged traitor of his people who was pretending to die for his faith."

Jakob Gapp was told his execution would take place at 7:00 p.m. on August 13, 1943. The two farewell letters he wrote after this announcement are truly moving expressions of faith. He was guillotined in the Plotzensee Prison, Berlin. His remains were sent for research to the Anatomical-Biological Institute of the University of Berlin (L'Osservatore Romano, Nov. 27, 1996).

At a later, 1993, press conference in Vienna the Marianists explained why they had taken no action on the case for years. The superiors had not changed their wartime loyalty to the Nazi regime, and it was only due to pressure from outside that a change of mind began to take place in the late 1980s (Tablet, Aug. 21, 1993).
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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