Pope Benedict recently authorized the promulgation of two new saints and 320 new blessed. Among the 320 soon-to-be blessed is the remarkable story of martyrdom attributed to Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian peasant who was guillotined in Berlin in 1943 for having refused any collaboration with the Nazis. He was 36, a husband and a father of three.
Jagerstatter, an Austrian Catholic farmer and family man, became one of the outstanding figures of Christian resistance to National Socialism and the Anschluss (annexation of Austria by Germany in March 1938). Born in 1907 in Austria, he married and settled down to a typical peasant life.
In addition to his farm and household duties, Jagerstatter became sacristan of the parish church, and was known for his diligent and devout service. After taking up this work, he began to receive Holy Communion daily.
Jagerstatter became known for his opposition to the Nazi regime, casting the only local vote. Everyone tried to make him reverse his decision and he was quite alone against them all, but his wife stood by him. Franz found guidance and help in the Bible and in the example of figures such as St. Thomas More and St. Nicholas of Flue, a Swiss hermit and mystic.
Franz presented himself to the military authorities in Enns on March 1, 1943 and announced he was refusing to fight. During March and April he was held in custody at Linz. In the first weeks of imprisonment at Linz in March 1943, he underwent a crisis of faith. His main trial took place on July 6, 1943 before the second panel of the national court martial. He was "condemned to death for sedition and sentenced to loss of civil rights and of eligibility for military service."
The court did not respond to his request to be allowed to do medical service, where he would have had the opportunity, like other conscientious objectors, to withdraw his objection unconditionally.
Early on August 9, 1943, Franz Jagerstatter was taken from Berlin to Brandenburg/Havel. At midday he was told his death sentence had been confirmed and it would be carried out at 4 p.m. That afternoon at 4 p.m., Franz was beheaded, the first of 16 victims, for his refusal to serve in the armies of the Third Reich. He was survived by his wife Franziska, still alive today at 95 years old, and three daughters. The eldest was six years old at the time.
He was martyred on the one-year anniversary of St. Edith Stein's execution at Auschwitz. Three years later his remains were brought back to his homeland and buried near his beloved parish church in St. Radegund.
His life is a remarkable story, especially in this time when war is raging in many parts of the world. He has long been an icon of the peace and non-violence movements -- in the Vietnam era, his witness was upheld by no less than the brothers Berrigan, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. Since he has been declared a martyr, his road to beatification by the Roman Catholic Church is now paved -- and will not require a miracle.
THEIR LIFE FOR CHRIST
Around the year 1936, Franz wrote these bold words to his godchild: "I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living." And he poignantly adds: "Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives -- often in horrible ways -- for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must became heroes of the faith."
Franz Jagerstatter is the second Nazi-era resister to be beatified by Benedict XVI. In the fall of 2005, the German-born pontiff beatified Cardinal Clemens August von Galen (1878-1946), the "Lion of Munster" whose residence was firebombed in light of his outspokenness against the regime.