Vatican cardinal honours Jewish Catholic saint at Auschwitz

Martyred at Auschwitz

Eighty years after Edith Stein’s death at Auschwitz, a Vatican cardinal has said Mass in her honour near the former death camp.

Raised as a Jew, Stein was an atheist philosopher who converted to Catholicism in 1921 when she was 30. She became a Discalced Carmelite nun in 1938 and took the name Sr Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Pope John Paul II declared her a martyr in 1987 and canonised her in 1998. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is the co-patroness of Europe.

On Tuesday – her anniversary – Cardinal Michael Czerny joined with her Carmelite sisters and celebrated a Mass for St Teresa Benedicta near Auschwitz.

Like her, members of Czerny’s family were also arrested and sent to concentration camps. Some were sent to Auschwitz.

Czerny’s homily recounted St Teresa Benedicta’s story and how it intersected with his maternal Czechoslovak family.

“With Edith Stein, I share Jewish origins, the Catholic faith and a vocation to religious life …” he said.

Even when she considered herself an atheist, “her sensitive moral conscience and intellectual honesty led her to reject relativism and subjectivism”.

Stein wrote that her “first encounter with the Cross” took place in 1917.

She was visiting a recently widowed friend who told her about her late husband’s conversion and her own.

The friend explained that the peace she received at her baptism prevailed even during this time of loss.

Stein “was struck by the serenity that the woman maintained in spite of tragedy,” Czerny said.

“No human force could account for or explain such peace,” Stein later wrote.

“It was the moment when the light of Christ, Christ on the cross, shone.”

In 1933, Stein wrote to Pope Pius XI urging him to speak out against all expressions of antisemitism.

It wasn’t until 1998 the Church formally apologised for not taking more decisive action to challenge Nazism and the so-called ‘final solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’.

By the end of the war, Czerny’s family was scattered or dead.

His grandmother and her children were considered Jewish as his grandmother was of Jewish descent. His grandfather refused to divorce his Jewish wife, so he was arrested too.

Both her grandmother and two uncles spent time at Auschwitz before being transferred elsewhere. Only his grandfather and mother survived.


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