World War II heroes … and future saints?

There is an extraordinary column in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post which offers a beautiful list of Catholic heroes from the World War II era — courageous men and women who risked their lives in order to protect Jews during the War and defend human dignity.  Significantly, it’s written Mordecai Paldiel, the fomer director of the Righteous Among the Nations department at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. 

Note from the start that the author’s intention is to point out that there are plenty of better World War II era candidates for sainthood than Pope Pius XII.  Though Pius is often defended, Paldiel notes, by saying his supposed public silence was a matter of prudence, and that he was doing what he believed was the best he could do for the Jews, there were many brave clerics who found another way. 

Agree or disagree with that context, it’s an inspiring thing to read Paldiel’s column.  His “litany of World War II saints” includes 7 priests, 2 nuns, and 2 bishops.  For example:

 IN BELGIUM, Hubert Célis, a priest in the village of Halmaal, near St. Trond, sheltered the children of a Jewish family whose parents had entrusted them to him. He promised them that whatever the outcome, he would return them to the Jewish fold. Suspected of harboring these children, Célis was arrested. Confronting his interrogator, Célis raised his voice. “You are a Catholic, and have forgotten that the Virgin was a Jewess, that Christ was Jewish, that He commanded us to love and help one another… That He told us: ‘I have given you an example so that you do as I have done’… You are a Catholic, and you do not understand what a priest is! You do not understand that a priest does not betray!” These words had a tantalizing effect on the interrogator and Célis was released.

Certainly, as Pope, Pius XII was in a different role.  But it does cause one to wonder, “what if…”


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