Category Archives: rescuers

The Night of Broken Glass

On the evening of November 9, 1938, Nazis storm troopers went throughout Germany, wreaking havoc on the Jewish communities. Because of the broken shops windows, it became known as Kristallnacht, Crystal Night.

As Robert Ellsberg writes in All Saints:

One hundred an ninety-one synagogues were burned to the ground. Seventy-five hundred Jewish-owned shops were destroyed….twenty thousand Jewish men were arrested and places in “protective custody” with half of them shipped to the Buchenwald concentration camps. Nearly one hundred Jews were killed.

There was almost no protest in Germany or elsewhere.

What I consider significant is the silence of the Church in Germany. There were some voices that did speak out, but they were few. One reason for the relative silence some gave was the fear  that the Church would be persecuted.

Since I first read about the silence of the Church in Nazi Germany when I was in high school, I have been moved by the need to stand up for those who are persecuted and marginalized.

This moved me to support the civil rights and anti-war campaigns of the 1960s and beyond. This has moved me to speak out in the 1980s against the US support for Latin American regimes that repressed their people and to speak against war on numerous occasions. This has led me to be here in Honduras and to support the only diocese that spoke out against the 2009 coup.

We, who are the Body of Christ in the world, need to speak out boldly and clearly in the face of the sufferings of others. If we suffer, it should be the result of defending others. It’s for this reason that I am skeptical of the cries about the fragility of religious freedom in he United States.

The Church should be bold – not in its own defense, but in defense of the poor and oppressed. The real glory of the Church are those who stand up and suffer for them, as some did in Nazi Germany. Thus I am fascinated by the stories of people like Franz Jägerstätter, Father Alfred Delp, SJ, and the young members of the White Rose. And I’m anxious to read a new book, Ultimate Price: Testimonies of Christians Who Resisted the Third Reich.

These stories inspire me to continue to be present for the poor and oppressed.

A Catholic politician, defender of the poor

Blessed Alberto Marvelli died on October 5, 1946, was killed at the age of 28, hit by a truck while bicycling to a meeting of the Christan Democratic Party in Rimini, of which he was a leader.

Born and raised in Rimini, Italy, his mother was a major influence in his life – not only for her piety but for her openness to the poor. At times she would take half of Alberto’s meal and give it to the poor. “Jesus has come and he is hungry,” she would say.

He studied in the Salesian oratory in Rimini and later obtained an engineering degree at Bologna University.

He was active in Catholic Action in Rimini and at the university. One of his major concerns was caring for the poor.

After graduating he worked for a while with Fiat.

During the Second World War his family moved out of Rimini, but Alberto would bicycle into the city after the air raids, rescuing people and bringing supplies for the hungry and homeless. He at times returned home without his shoes or bicycle, because he had given them to the poor.

But there is one story about him that touches me deeply. At times during the war he would go to the railroad station, cut the locks on the trains that were carrying people to concentration camps, and letting them go free. One of the rescuers! What courage!

After the war he was put in charge of allocating housing in the ravaged city, where he soon was named a town councilor. he even opened  a soup kitchen.

After the war he joined the Christian Democratic Party, because he saw politics as a way of being faithful and of seeking justice. He was respected by all, even by the Communists. One of them said, “I don’t mind if my Party loses. So long as the Engineer Marvelli becomes mayor”.

He sounds almost larger than life. But I think there may be others like him, hidden sources of love and identification with the poor, who keep our world from falling into chaos.

I found it hard to find many quotes from him, but here’s one to think about:

What a great deal of work is needed in this world which is so far from Christ; it is necessary for us to offer sacrifices; we must act to the utmost of our strength to make Christ known and loved. It is the call of duty we are urged by, and we are obliged to realize it.

Blessed Alberto, pray for us that God may give us courage to be true to God and the poor.

Trash can rescuer

Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945), an Russian Orthodox nun, protector of Jews in Paris, was killed in the Appel [Ravensbruck] concentration camp, by the Nazis, on Holy Saturday, March 31, 1945. Canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, she is a sign of prayerful and effective resistance to evil.

She lived for many years in Paris. One delightful story of her ingenious efforts to save persecuted Jews in occupied France is detailed in Jim Forest’s book Silent as a Stone. She persuaded trash collectors to hide children about to be taken by the Nazis in trash cans so that they could be moved to safe locations.

Hers is a spirituality needed for our time – combining deep prayer and courageous and imaginative resistance to injustice.

In 1938, she wrote:

“Open your gates to homeless thieves, let the outside world sweep in to demolish your magnificent liturgical system, abase yourself, empty yourself, make yourself of no account… Accept the vow of poverty in all its devastating severity; destroy all comfort, even the monastic kind.

“Our times are firmly in tune with Christianity, in that suffering is part of their character….They help us genuinely and completely to accept the vow of poverty, to seek no rule, but rather anarchy, the anarchic life of Fools for Christ’s sake, seeking no monastic enclosure but rather the complete absence of even the subtlest barrier which might separate the heart from the world and its wounds.”

Witnesses to love

Today is the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist.

A tradition, related by St. Jerome, tells us that St. John in his old age had to be carried into the assembly and always had the same message: “My little children, love one another.” When asked why he always used the same words, he replied, “Because it is the word of the Lord, and if you keep it, you do enough.”

But love is not easy; it is, as Dostoevsky wrote (and Dorothy Day used to quote), “a harsh and dreadful thing, compared to love in dreams.”

Love can be costly, even to the point of giving one’s life. For her love, Blessed Sara Salkahazi, SSS, Sister of Social Service was killed by Nazis in Budapest, Hungary, for hiding Jews, on December 27, 1944.

As she once wrote:

“It is not dynamite, chemical acid, or bombs that destroy and kill, but the spirit of hatred directing them. Hatred causes bereavement and pain. Love wipes tears. We want love! We want to create structures based on justice! Let is take a look at the terrible effects of injustice in the life of the world!… It attacks countries and sets up barriers… It instigates races to rebel against one another! On the other hand, justice acknowledges the right to life of other countries and demolishes the barriers that separate people. It identifies the characteristics of various races as God’s different ideas.”

The holy lock-breaker

Today is the feast of Blessed Alberto Marvelli, who lived between 1918 and 1946. His story deserves to be widely told.

He led a pious life, filled with prayer and the Eucharist. He was involved with Catholic Action and even ran for public office as a Christian Democrat after the war. He studied engineering but after the war used it to help rebuild his town, taking special care for the poor. As he once said, “The poor are on our doorstep; the others can wait.”

There is an account on the Vatican website, but one line stood out for me. “During the German occupation, Alberto was able to save many people from deportation to the concentration camps, courageously freeing them from the sealed carriages of the trains that were ready to leave the station of Santarcangelo.”

Not only did he feed the poor and rescue the victims of bombing raids, he undercut the Nazi’s deportation program. He was a lock-breaker, a liberator of the oppressed. How many people were willing like him to take such a risk to save a life.

He died after being hit while bicycling on October 5, 1946.