There was a journalist in the Church, who died in Dachau concentration camp at the height of World War II. His principal crime: opposition to Dutch newspapers being parameterized during the Nazi invasion. And he made this claim as a Carmelite friar, professor, and formator of youth. The journalist was Blessed Martyr Titus Brandsma.
On the occasion of the celebration of his feast, on July 27, and in order to learn more about his process of Canonization and the exemplary features of his figure for our times, Zenit talked with Spanish Carmelite priest Fernando Millan Romeral, Vice-Postulator of the Cause since last March.
–Q: You just took on the task of Vice-Postulator of Blessed Titus Brandsma’s Cause of Canonization. What are your plans to have him declared a Saint?
–Father Millan: I took up this task a few months after finishing as the Order’s Prior General in September of 2019; therefore, when the process was already quite advanced. Today we must continue to divulge his testimony and message for our time. Because that is, in a word, the gift of the Saints to the Church. In this connection, and in coordination with our General Postulation in Rome, I encourage and make known some initiatives, promote translations and publications. Moreover, I’m preparing a new biography in Spanish with critical apparatus and with references to classical authors of the concentration world.
–Q: What can you tell us about the alleged miracles attributed to his intercession?
–Father Millan: Although there have been several cases, there is an alleged miracle that is in the phase of study by the Vatican Congregation. It is a very detailed and precise process that takes time. It’s the case of a Carmelite in the United States who had advanced skin cancer. All the faithful of his parish entrusted themselves to Blessed Titus and, after ten years, he continues to be very well. This is the last phase of a process that has lasted many decades because he was, in a certain sense, a pioneer, as it is about the first case addressed as the martyrdom of National Socialism There were some prior victims of Nazism (Father Kolbe), but his process was carried out as a cause for heroic virtues.
–Q: Why would the present-day world benefit from the figure and message of Blessed Titus, if he were incorporated definitively in the Book of the Church’s Saints?
–Father Millan: Well, besides the profound spiritual, theological aspect (intercession, the Communion of Saints, universal public worship, etc.), I believe the figure of Titus Brandsma is an appeal to reconciliation, to solidarity with minorities (he refused to obey certain norms against Jewish children in Carmelite schools), an appeal for encounter in a very divided and angry society. More than that, in these very painful times we are living, due to the pandemic, his witness of hope, in a terrible situation as the one he lived, is really inspiring. It’s not only psychological optimism (which he also had), but let’s say of theological hope, of complete trust in God, precisely when everything seems to speak to us of its absence.
–Q: Society is angry and there is much division . . .
–Father Millan: I believe his testimony in favor of reconciliation is very timely. Just to give an example, think that in one of his last writings, when he was already in prison, on the reason the Dutch were opposed to National Socialism, he ends with a Blessing for Holland and Germany, so that “these two peoples will walk again in peace and freedom . . . “
–Q: Within the Carmelite Family, you are an in-depth scholar of the life of Father Brandsma. Can you describe two features of his biography that have made the greatest impact on you?
–Father Millan: In addition to what I just indicated, I would highlight his profound spirituality, not only theoretical (as Professor, he was an expert in Rhenish-Flemish mysticism, as well as on the work and doctrine of Saint Teresa of Jesus), but vital and existential. Although he was very discreet in regard to his personal interior life, the latter transcended in the tragic moments of the concentration camps he passed through. As John Paul II pointed out in the homily of beatification: “such heroism isn’t improvised,” it’s the fruit of a rich interior life.
–Q: That still impacts today . . . And the other feature?
–Father Millan: I would highlight his capacity for dialogue, for understanding. He was an ecumenical man in the most profound and beautiful sense of the word and not only in theory, but in the lofty and very delicate responsibilities he carried out, such as Rector of the Catholic University of Nijmegen or as Delegate of the Dutch Episcopate for the press. It wasn’t easy to live the spirit of listening and reconciliation in that hectic and convulsed Europe.
–Q: In the book you’ve authored, you present the Carmelite martyr as a “polyhedric figure.” How can his versatility be understood?
–Father Millan: Titus Brandsma had a great capacity for work, to which he gave himself with great generosity. Perhaps that’s the key to understand the many tasks to which he dedicated himself: University Professor, Rector, speaker, translator and scholar, founder of schools, professional journalist and theoretician of the role of journalism and many other things, in addition to pastoral work — very personal, very direct (in the line of Pope Francis). If an explanation were to be given, I would dare to say that his life (despite the apparent dispersion) had an integrating sense. In fact, sometimes he reminds me of Viktor Frankl, the famous psychologist who also passed through concentration camps.
–Q: Few know that his death brought about the conversion of the nurse who executed him with a lethal injection . . .
–Father Millan: Indeed, the nurse who gave him the phenolic acid injection declared it with the fictitious name Tizia in the process of Beatification. Although her figure is somewhat mysterious and controversial (in the midst of that sordid environment of depravity, of experiments with humans and death), her testimony is very striking, given that it shows the human and spiritual stature of Father Titus up to his last moments.
–Q: Like Father Titus Brandsma, today journalists suffer censure, persecution and death. What was the Blessed’s attitude to this and what lesson did he leave the press world?
–Father Millan: We must not forget that Titus Brandsma was a professional journalist, who even directed a newspaper that today we would qualify as “generalist” (De Stad Oss Niewsblad) and he had an international journalist press card. Moreover, on various occasions, he reflected very seriously on the function of the Catholic Press in modern society. In fact, he died to defend the independence of the Catholic media in face if Nazi manipulation and barbarism. He was opposed to Catholic newspapers publishing National Socialist propaganda. I believe it’s a wonderful testimony of full currency for our times of fake news and post-truth.
–Q: One can see, therefore, that his figure can find room in journalists’ life . . .
–Father Millan: Every three years the Inter-Christian Organization of the Media, with headquarters in Geneva, awards the prize called the “Titus Brandsma Award” to journalists or institutions that have been outstanding in the defense of journalistic ethics, human rights and freedom of expression — a lovely tribute to Blessed Titus on the part of his colleagues.