On Friday June 1, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved a series of decrees clearing the way for the canonization of two women and formally recognizing the martyrdom of 188 Japanese Catholics, 127 victims of Spanish Civil War and an Austrian layman executed for refusing to fight in the Nazi army. With the publishing of the martyrdom decrees, the beatification ceremonies can be scheduled.
The Austrian layman Franz Jägerstätter, was born on May 20, 1907 in St. Radegund, Austria, and murdered on August 9, 1943 in the concentration camp of Brandenburg (Berlin) in Germany. Franz was an extraordinary layman, father of a family, disciple and martyr for the truth. Born in 1907 in the small town of St. Radegund in Austria, he became one of the outstanding figures of Christian resistance to National Socialism. A married man, he led a simple farm life and served as sacristan of his parish church. Franz became known for his opposition to the Nazi regime, casting the only local vote against Nazism.
Franz presented himself to the military authorities in Enns, Austria, on March 1, 1943 and announced that he was refusing to fight. He was condemned to death for sedition and sentenced to loss of civil rights and of eligibility for military service.
Early on August 9, 1943, Franz Jägerstätter was taken from Berlin to Brandenburg/Havel. That afternoon at 4 p.m., Franz Jägerstätter 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 and three daughters, the eldest of whom was six years old. Franz was martyred on the same day that St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) was executed at Auschwitz, one year before. His wife Franziska, 95 years old, is still alive today, living in St. Radegund.
In his moving writings, Franz Jägerstätter left these words:
Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute us. For love will conquer and will endure for all eternity. And happy are they who live and die in God's love.
In 1999, while I was still pastor and executive director of the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto, I had the privilege of installing a stained glass window of the Servant of God Franz Jägerstätter in the university chapel (pictured above). May he continue to watch over this generation of young people who are seeking to give witness to the Gospel and to Christ, as they learn the ways of justice and peace in a complex world.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation