The martyrs of the era of World War II were remarkable men and women of valor. Some endured years of horror and pain, and others were killed in sudden violence. Blessed Marcel Callo endured several forms of martyrdom before dying, but he entered the arena of suffering with a willing heart, as he explained it, "as a missionary."Marcel was born on December 6, 1921, in Rennes, France, one of nine children, and was baptized two days later. Educated in local schools, he was apprenticed to a printer when he was almost thirteen. Marcel also belonged to the J.O.C., the Christian Worker's Youth organization and was conspicuous for his devout nature. He maintained his job, never missed attending the sacraments, and become engaged in August, 1942.
His happiness came in the midst of the conquest and occupation of France by the forces of the Third Reich, and, only after a few months of his engagement, the full weight of Nazi oppression reached Rennes. Marcel was forced to enter the Service of Obligatory Work, a program that transported young French men to Germany as slave labor. Marcel was assigned to a factory in Zella-Mehlis, Germany. He spent his time there organizing the Christian workers and rebuilding their morale under the dangerous and often inhumane conditions of forced labor. The diets and repressive labor schedules resulted in Marcel's physical collapse, but he forced himself to continue his work and his leadership. He even arranged for a French Mass, an act that brought him to the attention of the Gestapo, the dread Nazi secret police.
In April, 1944, Marcel was arrested for being "too Catholic" and sent to Mauthausen, the Gusen 2 concentration camp called "the hell of hells" by the few who survived. There he prayed and encouraged his fellow prisoners for the five months before his death from malnutrition and related conditions on March 19, 1945.
Pope John Paul II beatified Marcel on October 4, 1987, declaring: “Yes, Marcel met the Cross. First in France. Then torn from the affection of his family and of a fiancée whom he loved tenderly and chastely – in Germany, where he re-launches the J.O.C. with some friends, several of whom also died witnesses of the Lord Jesus. Chased by the Gestapo, Marcel continued until the end. Like the Lord, he loved his own until the end and his entire life became Eucharist. Having reached the eternal joy of God, he testifies that the Christian faith does not separate earth from heaven. heaven is prepared on earth in justice and love. When one loves, one is already "blessed". Colonel Tibodo, who had seen thousands of prisoners die, was present on the morning of 19 March 1945; he testifies insistently and with emotion: Marcel had the appearance of a saint."
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Former National Director and C.E.O., World Youth Day 2002
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, Canada