.- On Friday Pope Francis moved eight martyrs a step further on the path to sainthood, one of whom is Josef Mayr-Nusser, an Italian layman killed for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler during the Second World War.
The Pope’s recognition of Mayr-Nusser as a martyr was announced July 8 following an audience with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Born Dec. 27, 1910 in the northern Italian city of Bolzano, Mayr-Nusser grew up on a farm and was instilled with Christian values by his parents from a young age.
Since his family was poor and his older brother Jakob was in seminary studying for the priesthood, Mayr-Nusser didn’t study himself, but worked on the farm and later as the clerk for the Eccel company in Bolzano.
He dedicated much of his free time to reading, including many religious works. Among his favorites were the works of Frederic Ozanam, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, and the life of St. Vincent de Paul.
At the age of 22 he joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international Catholic volunteer organization dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged, in an effort to imitate the charity of the saint.
Mayr-Nusser was also involved in Catholic Action, and became head its division in the Diocese of Trent in 1934. In 1937 he became president of the Bolzano branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, spending a large amount of his time visiting the poor and providing them with both material and spiritual support.
When World War II flared up in Europe in 1939, Mayr-Nusser wasted no time in joining the anti-Nazi movement “Andreas Hofer Bund.”
However, a few years later civil war also broke out in Italy following the 1943 ousting of Benito Mussolini from power, which led to the German occupation of the northern half of the country.
The Nazi regime had established the “Schutzstaffel,” or “protective squadron.” The regime called not only on local men from Nazi Germany to join the squad, but they also took volunteers and conscripted men from both occupied and non-occupied territories.
Mayr-Nusser was among those conscripted from northern Italy, and so in 1944 was enrolled in an SS unit, forcing him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia.
However, when it came time for the SS members to swear an oath to Hitler, Mayr-Nusser refused.
According to a fellow comrade, he was “pensive and worried,” but told the general with a “strong voice” that “I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.”
Although his friends and tried to convince him to retract his statement and take the oath, Mayr-Nusser refused, believing that Nazi ideals could in no way be reconciled with Christian ethics and values.
As a result he was jailed while he awaited trial. In 1945 he was sentenced to death for treason, and was ordered to march to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to be shot by firing squad.
However, he fell ill with dysentery along the way and died Feb. 24, 1945, before reaching the camp. When his body was discovered on the train, he had both a Bible and a rosary with him.
Mayr-Nusser’s cause for martyrdom was launched by the Diocese of Bolzano and was approved in 2005, allowing him to receive the title “Servant of God.” Now, Pope Francis’ recognition of his martyrdom has paved the way for his beatification.
Other causes advanced by Pope Francis July 8 include the martyrdom of Servant of God Antonio Arribas Hortigüela and his six companions, all of whom were Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. They were killed in hatred of the faith Sept. 29, 1936 in Girona during the Spanish Civil War.
Francis also acknowledged a miracle attributed to the intercession of Venerable Luis Antonio Rosa Ormières, allowing for his beatification. A priest who founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Guardian Angel, Ormières was born in 1809 and died Jan. 16, 1890.
The heroic virtue of six other causes was also recognized, including four clerics, a religious sister, and a layman.
Among the clerics whose heroic virtue was approved of are Servants of God Alfonse Gallegos, who died in 1991 and was an auxiliary bishop of Sacramento; diocesan priest Fr. Rafael Sánchez García; Fr. Joseph Marchetti of the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles; and Fr. Giacomo Viale, a Franciscan and pastor of Bordighera, who died in 1912.
Servant of God Andrés García Acosta, a lay member of the Franciscan order, was also approved for heroic virtue. He was born Jan. 10, 1800, and died Jan. 14, 1853.
Sr. Maria Pia of the Cross, foundress of the Congregation of Crucified Sisters Adorers of the Eucharist, was also recognized for having heroic virtue. She was born in 1847, and died July 1, 1919.