A Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis in 1942 was declared blessed on Saturday.
Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided at the beatification of Fr. Jan Macha at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Katowice, southwest Poland, on Nov. 20.
Preaching at the live-streamed Mass, the Italian cardinal said: “The witness of Jan Franciszek Macha, now blessed, to the Lord Jesus is a truly heroic page of faith and charity in the history of this Church in Upper Silesia.”
“He too died, just like the grain of wheat: he was killed by a Nazi system full of hatred for those who were sowing good, in order to show the people of today that earthly dominion is passing away, while the Kingdom of Christ — which, as its supreme law, has the commandment of charity — endures.”
Jan Franciszek (John Francis) Macha, known as Hanik, was born on Jan. 18, 1914, in Chorzów Stary, a village in the southern Polish province of Silesia. He had two sisters and a brother.
In 1934, he entered the Silesian Theological Seminary. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Katowice on June 25, 1939, just three months before Nazi Germany invaded Poland.
After a two-month substitution in his home parish, he was appointed to the parish church of St. Joseph in Ruda Śląska, a city near Katowice.
During the occupation, he offered aid to families who lost members in the fighting. He was a member of an underground group, codenamed Konwalia (Lily of the Valley), that helped those in need. He also published the underground newspaper Świt (Dawn).
In his homily, which was read out in Polish, Semeraro said: “While the violence and abuses of war raged in Poland and throughout the world, he understood that only faith and charity make it possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of each person, created in the image and likeness of God.”
“From the earliest days of his priesthood, he placed himself at the service of his neighbor, setting out on the road of heroic realization of love, the road that would later lead him to the sacrifice of his life.”
“He took care of many families touched by the nightmare of war. No suffering left him indifferent: wherever someone was arrested, deported, or shot, he brought comfort and material support. And he paid no attention to differences of nationality, religious denomination, or social level.”
The Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany, arrested Macha on Sept. 5, 1941, at a train station in Katowice. They found a list of people that he and his associates had helped, as well as other documents showing that they had collected money and given it to people in need.
After humiliating interrogations, Macha was sentenced to death by beheading at a brief hearing in Katowice on July 17, 1942.
He was executed by guillotine at a prison in Katowice at 12:15 a.m. on Dec. 3, 1942, despite his mother’s efforts to secure a pardon.
He was 28 years old when he died and had served only 1,257 days as a priest. His body was never recovered and is believed to have been incinerated at Auschwitz concentration camp.
Macha’s sainthood cause opened in 2013. After the diocesan stage was completed in 2015, the cause was sent to Rome. Pope Francis issued a decree on Nov. 29, 2019, recognizing Macha as a martyr, killed “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith.)
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The beatification was originally scheduled for Oct. 17, 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
Macha is one of thousands of Catholic clergy killed during the Nazi German occupation of Poland from 1939 to 1945. Around a fifth of Poland’s 10,000 diocesan priests perished.
The Nazis killed 868 Polish Catholic clergy at Dachau concentration camp, once described as “the largest priest cemetery in the world.”
The beatification Mass was celebrated in Latin and Polish. After the singing of the Kyrie, Archbishop Wiktor Skworc of Katowice formally asked Pope Francis to inscribe Macha among the Church’s blesseds, submitting the request to Semeraro, the papal delegate.
Macha’s biography was read out by Fr. Damian Bednarski, the postulator of his cause. Afterward, a letter in which the pope inscribed Macha among the blesseds was read.
Semeraro proclaimed the beatification formula in Latin and an image of Macha was unveiled.
Members of the new blessed’s family brought his relics to the chancel. The relics consisted of Macha’s last letter to his parents and siblings before his execution, a rosary he had made, and a blood-stained handkerchief.
Ahead of the beatification ceremony, Cardinal Semeraro visited the parish church where Macha was baptized, praying at the baptismal font at St. Mary Magdalene, Chorzów Stary. He also visited a seminary in Katowice preparing men for priestly service in the Silesia region.
Archbishop Skworc released a pastoral letter devoted to Macha in the run-up to the beatification.
“As the community of the Church of Katowice, we gratefully welcome the new blessed as a martyr for merciful love, as a gift of Divine Providence for today and tomorrow, as a call and a reminder of the vocation to holiness,” he said in the Nov. 10 message.
“Fr. Jan Franciszek as a victim of persecution and war makes us aware of its deadly effects. May his tragic death inspire and encourage us to work for the strengthening of peace and reconciliation, especially between Poles and Germans. The fates of these nations met in an exceptionally dramatic way in the death of Fr. Jan.”
Macha wrote a letter hours before his execution asking his family to arrange a “quiet corner in the cemetery, so that from time to time someone would remember me and say the Our Father for me.”
His request was fulfilled in October 1951 when his classmates established a symbolic grave in the old cemetery of St. Mary Magdalene church.
Macha has inspired a show called “Hanik 1257” (referring to the number of days he served as a priest) performed by the theatrical group Teatr Cordis. The group’s members helped to organize a prayer vigil ahead of the beatification, which ended with a musical performance featuring a restored violin that Macha himself used to play.
The priest was also the subject of a 2011 documentary film “Without One Tree, a Forest Will Stay a Forest,” directed by Dagmara Drzazga.
The title comes from a line in a letter Macha wrote to his family shortly before his execution.
“This is my last letter. In four hours, the sentence will be carried out. So when you read this letter, I will no longer be among the living! Stay with God! Forgive me for everything,” he said.
“I am going before the Almighty Judge who will judge me now. I hope that He will accept me. My wish was to work for Him, but it was not given to me. Thank you for everything!”
He continued: “I die with a clear conscience. I have lived a short life, but I believe that I have achieved my goal. Don’t despair! Everything will be all right.”
“Without one tree, the forest will stay a forest. Without one swallow, the spring will come, and without one man, the world will not collapse.”
In his homily, Semeraro described these words as Macha’s “supreme teaching.”
He said: “He testifies that everyone on this earth was created in view of a mission to fulfill.”
“He describes the good as greater than the interests of individuals: aspirations to happiness are authentic if they become the defense of justice, service to the common good, sharing, acceptance, respect, attention to the needs of others.”
“Finally, he invites us to remain with the Lord, to seek him in prayer and interior dialogue, to glorify him in a holy life.”
He added: “From this image of the forest, from which one of the trees has been removed, we understand the Gospel even better: the grain that fell into the ground died, but it can, indeed it must, continue to bear abundant fruit in us today.”
“Jan Franciszek Macha, the new blessed, like a tree cut down at an early age, laid the foundation for the construction of a stable home for future generations, to whom he delivers, with his life sealed with his own blood, a clear message: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).”