He was the Apostolic Administrator of Estonia, during the Second World War. For this, the Soviets imprisoned him and had him die in Siberia. The story of Jesuit Monsignor Eduard Profittlich is not well known beyond that country’s borders. However, when Pope Francis visited Tallinn, on September 25, 2018, he exclaimed: “Santo Subito (“Sainthood now”) when he learned who he was and how he died.
French Monsignor Philippe Jean-Charles Jourdan, 58, Opus Dei, has been the Apostolic Administrator of Estonia since 2005. In fact, he came to Rome with the acts of the diocesan phase of the process of Beatification. Monsignor Profittlich would be the first Blessed and then, perhaps, Saint in the history of Estonia. Zenit, who had followed the Pope’s visit to the Baltic Countries on the Papal Flight in September of 2018, met with Bishop Jourdan during a pause in his busy schedule in Rome this week and conducted the following interview.
ZENIT: Bishop Jourdan, what impact did Pope Francis’ visit last September 25, 2018, have on Estonia?
Bishop Jourdan: A greater impact than we could ever have foreseen. And this impact was not only recognized, as is normal, by the small Estonian Catholic community. I remember that, two days after the Pope’s visit, I went to a theology conference near Tallinn. The speaker, a Lutheran theologian, said to me: “after what we saw in Estonia with the Pope, we can’t say that Estonians are an atheist people!” Non-Catholics also saw, evidently, the intense response of the Estonians, who in great part don’t profess any religion; a response that, evidently, not only we, but neither the Lutherans nor the Orthodox expected. And this was a motive of enthusiasm also for them: the Pope came and people mobilized for him!
ZENIT: For what reason are you here in Rome?
Bishop Jourdan: There are essentially two. The first is that, after the Pope’s visit to Estonia, we asked the Vatican if we could bring a group of people who contributed to the organization of the visit, either with their time or monetary contributions… We wanted to meet the Pope, at the General Audience, and then greet and thank him for his visit to Tallinn. However, more than us thanking him, it was he who thanked us. He said it to me immediately, when I visited him before alone, getting in line with the other Bishops: once my turn arrived, I introduced myself and he said to me immediately: “I was truly happy with the trip!”
ZENIT: And the second?
Bishop Jourdan: We came to deliver to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints the acts and documents of the diocesan phase of the process of Beatification of my predecessor, Archbishop Eduard Profittlich, the first Bishop of Estonia, after the Lutheran Reformation, who died in Siberia in 1942. God willing, he will be the first Blessed and then, perhaps, Saint of Estonia. So, he is an extremely significant figure for us. Now let’s hope so. All that we could do at Tallinn we have done. Monsignor Profittlich is a martyr who gave his life for the faith, the Church and Estonia. To honor his martyrdom would mean to honor the tragedy of the whole Estonian people, which was crushed by the Soviet power for 50 years.
ZENIT: You said that Monsignor Profittlich is a martyr. Can you tell us something about the circumstances of his death?
Bishop Jourdan: Monsignor Profittlich was Apostolic Administrator of Estonia at the time of the Second World War. Being German by birth and a German citizen, when the Soviets invaded Estonia in 1939, he had the possibility to return to Germany. So, he wrote directly to Pope Pius XII asking what he should do. The answer was, in essence, “do what you think is best.” So, he decided to stay in Tallinn, conscious that in doing so he was signing his death sentence, given that it was immediately clear that the Soviets wanted to destroy the Estonian Catholic Church.
ZENIT: What happened?
Bishop Jourdan: The Soviets arrested him in 1941. They imprisoned him, deported him to Siberia and sentenced him to death. However, he died in fact before the execution, in a place called Kirov, probably of the cold and sickness. It was discovered many years later that it was February 22, 1942. Now we know that in the jail where he was imprisoned, 90% of the inmates died of cold, sickness, and various privations. They weren’t prisons; they were extermination camps!
ZENIT: For the laws of the Church, a martyr is one who was killed “in odium fidei,” out of hatred of the faith . . . so is this also the case of Monsignor Profittlich?
Bishop Jourdan: Yes! We recovered and consulted, for this purpose, the documentation of the interrogations, which he endured in the six months of imprisonment, from the archives of the KGB. It’s very clear there, that they condemned him to death with the usual rhetorical accusation of “espionage” on behalf of the Vatican. It must also be added that at that same time 20% of the Estonian population was deported. Many Estonians died in the same place in which Monsignor Profittlich did. The Archbishop shared the fate of his people. Here is why it’s important to remember these painful facts for the whole country, not only for the Church; however, not with hateful feelings towards anyone, but only to honor the sacrifice of all the victims. After all, the Russians who had invaded Estonia also lived the same tragedies.
ZENIT: Can you tell us some episodes regarding the figure of Monsignor Profittlich as Pastor?
Bishop Jourdan: It’s necessary to understand first of all that throughout the whole time of the Soviet occupation, from the 40s to 1991, the Catholic Church was persecuted. Before the Second World War the Church constituted a small community. After the War, in fact, she almost disappeared. So only in recent years the story of Monsignor Profittlich has come to light.
Now there comes to mind an episode, perhaps small, but for me, significant. Some time ago, a very elderly man came to Tallinn from the United States. He was the son of the first Estonian family that converted to Catholicism. So, when the Soviet persecution began, they were constrained to flee to America losing all their goods. That man died last year, but I remember well his story: there was a time in which every Monday, he recalled, his mother asked him to be quiet, because in the room next to their house was the Archbishop together with his father, a doctor. The Archbishop held catecheses in their house only for his father, to prepare him to receive Baptism! An Archbishop who every week left the Bishop’s residence to go to someone’s house to prepare him for Baptism . . . If I were to do the same thing, with all those that wish to become Catholics, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else! So, this attention is good, this spending of oneself to do the utmost possible even for only one person. As long as we Bishops are willing to do as much, I’m convinced that even for a small flock, such as the Church in Estonia, there will be a future.
ZENIT: How does the figure of Monsignor Profittlich inspire you in your work as Pastor today?
Bishop Jourdan: I can say that I am one of the few Bishops who has been concerned with the cause of Beatification of one of his predecessors. For me, his figure and his example are a call to be even more faithful to my mission, even when the work is hard, the difficulties are so many . . . In that moment, I think of Monsignor Profittlich and to what I’ve read and know about the Church of Estonia in his time: everything was more difficult for him, having to give back life to the Catholic Church in Estonia five centuries after the Protestant Reformation. In the 30’s in Tallinn there were 60 people on Sundays, and only two received the Eucharist. I have many more reasons to be optimistic!
ZENIT: Do you have a word of hope that you would like to give to Christians still persecuted today?
Bishop Jourdan: Persecution in the history of the Church is a mystery. God certainly doesn’t will it, but He permits it for our purification, to make us grow. The Estonian Church was persecuted up to 30 years ago. Now, thank God, we can carry out our work of evangelization without limitations. This means that history is in God’s hands!
ZENIT: When Pope Francis was in Estonia, was he able to get to know in some way the figure of Monsignor Profittlich?
Bishop Jourdan: At a certain point at Tallinn, I showed the Pope — not the tomb, given that the tomb doesn’t exist –, but that Monsignor Profittlich was buried, who knows, where the Soviets are together with other dead prisoners: there was a commemorative stone, which I showed the Pope and it says briefly who Monsignor Profittlich was and his story. “Is he a martyr?”, the Pope asked me: “yes,” I answered. “Saint immediately,” he then exclaimed. After all, I was told that already at Vilnius, in Lithuania, the Pope had visited a few days earlier the KGB museum and was so affected by the stories of martyrdom he heard, that he wanted to pause there alone for a quarter of an hour, so much so that it was necessary to cancel a subsequent appointment.
ZENIT: How long will it still be necessary to wait for Monsignor Profittlich’s Beatification?
Bishop Jourdan: According to the Postulator, with whom I just spoke, the 80th anniversary of the Archbishop’s death, which will fall in 2022, might be a possible date. In any case, we have been assured that it’s a priority cause, in as much as he would be the first Saint of a country — Estonia. And in regard to the fact that he is a martyr, and could, therefore, be beatified as such, the doubts are few.
ZENIT: And what would you like to ask for the small Church of Estonia?
Bishop Jourdan: I ask you to pray for my small Church, which especially after Francis’ visit is growing in quantity and quality. We are still few certainly, but not so few as at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Obviously, it’s not that all became Catholics after having seen the Pope! However, before, for Estonians, the Catholic Church was something apparently of the past, concerning the Poles, the Italians and no others . . . Now they see it is closer, and not a little closer.[The original language of this interview was Italian]