VATICAN CITY, JULY 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI sent his condolences to the family of Otto von Habsburg, the last crown prince of Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, who died July 4 in Pöcking, Germany, at the age of 98.
Also known as Archduke Otto of Austria, Otto was the eldest son of Blessed Charles I of Austria, the last emperor of Austria-Hungary. The empire dissolved in 1918, at the end of the First World War, and the Habsburg family was forced into exile.
Otto would never become an emperor or a king, but rather he dedicated himself to a lifelong career in politics, during which he worked tirelessly to unify a divided Europe, and remind the continent of its Christian roots.
Benedict XVI stated in his message, sent Sunday to Karl von Habsburg, that Otto had "been a witness to the changing face of Europe."
"Trusting in God and aware of a significant heritage," the Pope added, Otto had "been a committed European tirelessly working for freedom, for the unity of peoples and for a just order in this continent."
"With deepest sympathy have I learned about the passing of your father, His Royal Highness Archduke Otto of Austria," the Pontiff wrote. "In this hour of sadness at your painful loss, I am united with you and all the royal family in prayer for the dead."
"May the Lord reward him for his diverse acts for the good of mankind and give him the fullness of life in his heavenly kingdom," Benedict XVI added.
The funeral for Archduke Otto of Austria is scheduled for July 16 in Vienna, Austria. The Pope named Cardinal Christoph Schönborn as he delegate to the funeral.
After being exiled from Austria, the Habsburgs lived in Switzerland, Portugal and Spain. Otto's father, Charles I, died in 1922, leaving his eldest son as pretender to the imperial throne. In 2004, Pope John Paul II beatified his father.
In 1933, Otto graduated with a doctorate in political and social sciences from the University of Louvain in Belgium.
During World War II, Otto was a fearless critic of the Nazi party in Germany. Upon annexing Austria, Adolf Hitler had not only ordered the death of Otto von Habsburg, but also revoked his citizenship, as well as the citizenship of the imperial royal family.
Otto, who was left stateless, spent the better part of World War II in the United States, and he wouldn't regain his citizenship until 1965.
In the 1960s, after renouncing his claim to the Austrian throne, Otto embarked on a long political career. He served as president of the International Paneuropean Union from 1973-2004, and from 1979-1999 he was a member of the European Parliament.
Otto was an organizer of the Pan-European Picnic at the Hungary-Austria border on Aug. 19, 1989, which allowed some 700 East Germans to escape to the West, and is considered a turning point in the collapse of the Iron Curtain that divided Europe.
Otto's wife, Regina, died last year. He is survived by a brother, Felix, seven children, 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
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