Who is this man?

The photo above looks like one you might find in an old family album. It could be your great grandfather or an uncle you never met. Who is this man? Just based on first impressions, few of us (including me) would have tumbled to the truth and declared, "Looks like a saint to me!" There's no halo, no ancient or religious garb suggesting that this man gave his life in witness to his faith in Christ. But he did. His name is Franz Jagerstatter and he's almost a saint. His beatification (the penultimate step before canonization) will take place this month. The following is from an article in the Catholic Sun, the newspaper of the Diocese of Syracuse, NY. More information is available through the web page of the Catholic Peace Fellowship (link in the sidebar).

“Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute us. For love will conquer and will endure for all eternity.” — Franz Jagerstatter

Franz Jagerstatter was a rare soul. He could be compared to the great contemplatives and saints. Jagerstatter was a simple Austrian farmer who stubbornly refused to serve in the armies of the German Third Reich and to support the Nazi party. He was executed as a consequence. Jagerstatter became one of the outstanding figures of Christian resistance to National Socialism.

On June 1, Pope Benedict XVI authorized Jagerstatter’s beatification, which will take place Oct. 27 in Lintz, Austria. Jagerstatter was born in 1907 in St. Radegund, a community by the River Salzach in the western part of Upper Austria where everyone was a farmer. After Jagerstatter’s father was killed in World War I, his mother married Herr Jagerstatter, who adopted him. In 1936 Jagerstatter married Franziska Schwaninger and adopted the life of a peasant. A strong and ardent believer, Jagerstatter began serving as sexton of the parish church. He was known for his diligent and devout service.

Jagerstatter was also known for his opposition to the Nazi regime. The thought of fighting in Hitler’s war was unconscionable to him and he regarded it as a matter of personal guilt and serious sin. When Jagerstatter was called to active duty in the military, he sought counsel from at least three priests and his bishop. Each tried to assure him that military service was compatible with his Christianity. Jagerstatter knew that bishops and priests would be arrested if they said anything other than what the government permitted. Yet he asked, “If the church stays silent in the face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again?”

Jagerstatter knew that he couldn’t change world affairs but he wanted his refusal to fight to be a sign to others lest they be carried away with the tide. Jagerstatter reconciled his church’s advice of subservience to the governing authorities with his conscience by reporting to the induction center but refusing to serve. After being imprisoned in Linz and Berlin, Jagerstatter was convicted in a military trial at which he explained that if he fought for the nationalist socialist state, he would be acting against his religious conscience. He had reached the conviction that as a believing Catholic he could not perform military service. Jagerstatter, however, offered to serve as a medical orderly. The court did not respond to his request.

Jagerstatter was then taken from Berlin to Brandenburg/Havel on Aug. 9, 1943. He was told that his death sentence would be carried out later that day. A priest by the name of Father Jochmann spent considerable time with the condemned man and was impressed by his calmness and composure. That night, Father Jochmann told some Austrian nuns that Jagerstatter was the only saint he had met in his life.

On Aug. 9, Jagerstatter was beheaded, the first of 16 victims. The nuns planted flowers on the site where Jagerstatter’s urn was buried, and on their first trip to their motherhouse in Vocklabruck after the war, they brought the urn containing Jagerstatter’s ashes to his homeland. On Aug. 9, 1946, the urn was buried by the church wall in St. Radegund. His wife and three young daughters survived Jagerstatter. At the time of his death he said he would rather his children have a father martyred for following Christ than a Nazi for a father. Jaggerstatter wrote a number of poignant essays and letters while he was in prison...

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