Priest-Martyr of Dachau Beatified
Proposed as Model for Youth
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MUNSTER, Germany, SEPT. 20, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Schonstatt Fathers are welcoming another beatification for their spiritual family, Father Gerhard Hirschfelder, who associated himself with the group while he was a prisoner at Dachau concentration camp.
The founder of Schonstatt, Father Joseph Kentenich (1885 - 1968), himself spent several years at Dachau.
Father Hirschfelder followed in the spiritual footsteps of the founder, associating himself with Schonstatt before his death in 1942, at the age of 35.
The priest was beatified Sunday, with Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, representing the Pope at the ceremony.
The cardinal talked to Vatican Radio about Blessed Hirschfelder, classifying him as a model for young people.
Warning of Nazi error
Gerhard Hirschfelder was born in 1907 in Glatz, Silesia, and was ordained a priest in 1932. His path to ordination was strewn with difficulties because Gerhard was an illegitimate child and, according to the rules of the day, needed special authorization to study theology and a dispensation for orders.
Despite difficult beginnings, the young priest showed himself a dedicated and effective minster to youth. Realizing the horrors of Nazi propaganda, he tried through closeness and spiritual direction to keep his young people from the ideology.
In his homilies, he denounced the excesses and violence of that period. The Gestapo reacted to this and arrested him in 1941, during a meeting of young people.
While in the Glatz prison, where he was for four months, he wrote an impressive Via Crucis and reflections on the priesthood, marriage and the family.
He was taken to Dachau on Dec. 15, 1941, where he died of hunger and acute pneumonia on Aug. 1, 1942.
Ready to do a favor
Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Engelbert Rehling lived with him in block 26/3 of the concentration camp.
That priest described him as giving "a very humble impression, almost timid," adding that "he practiced a noble discretion and at the same time was always ready to do a favor to others."
In a testimony on the Schonstatt Web page, Father Rehling explains how the two talked of the Schonstatt community. "Father Hirschfelder was interested in the community and knew and loved the thrice admirable Mother," he explained.
This image of the Virgin, the Mater Ter Admirabilis, is at the heart of Schonstatt shrines; the nucleus of the institute is a covenant of love with the Virgin.
Blessed Hirschfelder is not the only priest to have discovered Schonstatt in the concentration camp. Blessed Charles Leisner was also part of this group, as are two more priests in the process of beatification: Pallotine Father Richard Henkes and Father Alois Andritzki.
Benedict XVI on March 27 promulgated the decree of martyrdom for Father Hirschfelder.
As the Pope mentioned last week when he addressed the new German ambassador to the Holy See, Blessed Hirschfelder's beatification will be followed by that of other significant priests martyred by the Nazi regime.
He explained that the beatifications of Georg Hafner in Wurzburg, as well as of Johannes Prassek, Hermann Lange and of Eduard Muller in Lubeck, will take place in the coming year. Evangelical Pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink will also be commemorated, together with the chaplains of Lubeck.
"The attested friendship of four clerics is an impressive testimony of the ecumenism of prayer and suffering which flourished in various places during the dark period of Nazi terror," the Holy Father said on that occasion. "We can look to these witnesses as luminous indicators for our common ecumenical journey.
"In contemplating these martyrs it appears ever more clearly and as an example that on the basis of their Christian conviction some people are prepared to give their life for their faith, for the right to practice what they believe freely, for freedom of speech, for peace and for human dignity."