Pope: 3 Priests, Pastor Gave Ecumenical Witness in Death

Victims of Nazis Beatified in Germany

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 27, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says that three priests and a Protestant pastor killed by the Nazis gave a «great ecumenical testimony to humanity and hope.»

The Pope said this Sunday after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square, in reference to the three priests beatified Saturday in Germany. The priests, Hermann Lange, Eduard Müller and Johannes Prassek, and Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink, were killed by guillotine Nov. 10, 1943.

«Let us praise the Lord for these luminous witnesses of the Gospel,» the Holy Father said Sunday.

The Pontiff referred to a letter by Father Prassek, in which the priest wrote, «God is so good that he takes all fear from me, and gives me joy and longing.»

Benedict XVI reflected on how the priest revealed heaven from his cell, and invited the faithful to be inspired by this joy.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, presided over the beatification ceremony. Cardinal Walter Kasper, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the homily.

«These four men,» the cardinal said, «tell us what it means to be a Christian: to be where Jesus is, to live and to die with him.»

He reflected how today as well, «we need men and women of this caliber, because today Christians are the group most persecuted in the whole world.»

Their stories

The postulator of the cause, Andrea Ambrosi, spoke with ZENIT about the three beatified priests.

Johannes Prassek

Johannes Prassek was born 100 years ago in Hamburg, Germany. In 1935 he entered the major seminary of Osnabruck and was ordained two years later.

He soon won the friendship of his faithful, attracting «the underprivileged and oppressed,» said Ambrosi.

Father Prassek became known for his preaching and «his impressive Sunday homilies not only attracted numerous faithful, but also the Gestapo,» the postulator continued.

Friends «warned him that perhaps his comments against the National Socialist ideology were too imprudent, but Father Prassek did not let himself be influenced and thought he should say the truth,» Ambrosi explained.

In 1941 he met a young Protestant pastor who expressed a desire to learn about the Catholic faith. However, this man turned out to be a spy and the information he obtained was used for Father Prassek’s arrest on May 18, 1942.

The priest waited for trial more than a year in inhuman conditions of hunger and cold, which gravely affected his poor health. During that time he wrote numerous letters. «Despite the harsh period of prison and the prospect of his execution, Father Prassek did not lose his sense of faith, nor his cordiality in consoling his fellow prisoners,» Ambrosi said.

Hermann Lange

Hermann Lange was born in 1912 in Eastern Phrygia. He was ordained a priest in 1938. In June of 1939 he began his pastoral work in the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Lubeck.

Ambrosi said that Father Lange’s homilies «were prepared in an absolutely precise manner.»

Moreover, he said, «the priest was determined, gentle, of noble sentiments from the human point of view. He was perfectly upright.»

«He was outstanding for his great sensitivity, humanity and theological preparation, and was a great opponent of National Socialism,» the postulator continued.

He was arrested June 16, 1942, and sentenced to death for «supporting the enemy with betrayal of the homeland,» particularly through comments he had made by radio, Ambrosi said.

Father Lange and Pastor Schwentner shared a cell.

His letters attest to his submission to what God permitted and his profound religiosity. «When you receive this letter I will no longer be in the world of the living,» he wrote his parents the day of his death. «Today will be the great return to the Kingdom of the Father, and then I will see all those who were close to me on earth.»

Eduard Müller

Of the group of the four martyrs, Eduard Müller is the one who had the most difficult youth. He was born in August of 1911, the youngest of seven children. His father abandoned the family.

From an early age he expressed the desire to be a priest. In 1940 he was ordained and worked in the parish of the Sacred Heart in Lubeck.

«His calm, gentle and non-authoritarian manner is still esteemed by witnesses from that time,» said Ambrosi. «He was particularly famous for his ability to identify with the life of workers and artisans; in fact, it was not difficult for him to identify with them because he came from that environment.»

Of the four martyrs in Lubeck, he was the least political. Yet he was arrested in July of 1942.

After being sentenced to death he wrote: «I have the hope that I will never be disappointed, rather, with all honesty as always, also now Christ will be glorified with my love, both in life as well as in death.»

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On the Net:

Translations of their farewell letters: www.luebeckermaertyrer.de/en/geschichte/abschiedsbriefe/index.html

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