Defender of poor, women, and Jews

On April 2, 1945, the bishop of Györ, Hungary died from complications from gunshot wounds he had received two days before while preventing drunken Russian troops from taking away women refugees hidden in the bishop’s residence to be used sexually.

Bishop Vilmos Apor, declared blessed in 1997, also sought to defend the Jews during the Nazi era. He not only hid Jews in the bishop’s palace; he protested both privately and publicly to government officials against the deportation of Jews, which he labeled as genocide. He even sent a telegram to Hitler, stating “The divine commandments apply equally to the Führer. The time will come where he will have to account to God and to the world for his actions.”

In his 1944 Pentecost sermon, he bluntly stated: “He who assumes that men, whether Negroes or Jews, may be tortured, must be regarded as pagan, even if he boasts of being a Christian. Everyone who approves of, or takes part in, the torturing of human beings commits a sin.”

He was also known for his care for the poor, even though he came from an upper-class family. He also sought to maintain good relations with non-Catholics.

Here was a bishop who spoke out, when so many were silent, against torture and the violation of human rights, against anti-Semitism and the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

Here was a bishop who sought to prevent the rape of women whom he was sheltering.

Here was a bishop who cared for the poor, the refugee, the persecuted.

It was not easy and at times he was not able to speak as openly as he wished and lamented that the Reformed Church in Hungary was more openly critical of the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people than the Catholic Church.

Yet in the midst of the silence of so many, it is encouraging to hear of one who spoke up even a little and put his life on the line to defend those persecuted.

Would that we had more bishops willing to do the same.

Would that we followers of Christ find ways to defend those in need.


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