.- Three Catholic martyrs executed under the Nazi regime were beatified in Germany today, June 25. The event was also noteworthy for its rememberance of their Lutheran companion.
Fathers Hermann Lange, Eduard Müller and Johannes Prassek, along with Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink, were guillotined in a Hamburg prison in November 1943. The Nazi regime found them guilty of “defeatism, malice, favoring the enemy and listening to enemy broadcasts.”
At a ceremony in the northern German city of Lubeck, Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, declared the trio of Catholic clergy to be ‘blessed.’ He also expressed an ‘honorable remembrance’ for the priests’ fellow Christian martyr, Pastor Stellbrink.
“What distinguishes these four also is the fact that in the face of National-Socialist despotism they overcame the divide between the two faiths to find a common path to fight and act together,” says the official history which accompanied the ceremony.
It’s estimated that over 9,000 pilgrims – both Catholic and Protestant – attended today’s ceremony. Twenty Catholic and four Protestant bishops planned to attend.
On June 24 Lutheran Vespers were prayed for the martyrs at Lubeck’s Memorial Church. Former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, spoke at the ceremony.
The official history recounts that the men would copy and distribute the anti-Nazi sermons of Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of the Catholic Diocese of Munster.
“They felt, like many others, the liberating tone of these sermons, which broke the silence and proclaimed aloud the thoughts many had in their hearts, when the Nazi action for the ‘destruction of unworthy lives’ began, the euthanasia of innocent mentally retarded persons,” the history says.
The men’s last letters, written just hours before their deaths, have been preserved and were put on display this weekend. Father Johannes Prassek wrote his family:
“I am so happy, I can hardly explain how happy. God is so good to have given me several beautiful years in which to be his priest.
“Do not be sad! What is waiting for me is joy and good fortune, with which all the happiness and good fortune here on earth cannot compare.”
Father Eduard Muller wrote to his bishop:
“It gives me great pleasure to be able to write a few lines to you in this, my last hour. Whole-heartedly, I thank you first of all for the greatest gift which you gave me as a successor of the apostles, when you placed you hands on me and ordained me as God’s priest.
“But now we must embark upon this – in human terms difficult- final walk, which is to lead us to Him, whom we served as priests.”
Beatification is public recognition by the Catholic Church that a deceased person has entered Heaven. It is the third of the four steps towards canonization and confers the title “blessed.”