BLESSED BERNHARD LICHTENBERG (1875-1943), priest and martyr
Today, the Church honors Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg, a German priest who was not afraid to preach about the evils of Nazism in Berlin, Germany during World War II.
Bernhard was born in 1875 in Ohlau, Germany. He was ordained to the priesthood and served in the Diocese of Berlin in the Berlin Cathedral. He was well known in civic circles and became an out-spoken critic of the Nazis and their anti-Semitic violence.
On November 9, 1938, sixty-three year-old Monsignor Bernhard Lichtenberg, then Vicar of the cathedral, was shocked about what he could see happening openly on the streets of Berlin. Jewish shops were being attacked and demolished and synagogues were set on fire.
On that same evening, he opened his prayers in the cathedral denouncing the inhuman anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime, using strong words seldom heard before from a Catholic priest in Germany – “Outside, the temple is burning, and this too is a house of God!” And he went on to exclaim, “The Jews are my brothers and sisters, also created with an immortal soul by God!”
Monsignor Lichtenberg had earlier been appointed as a Vicar for the Catholics of Jewish Origin, and helped many of them hide from persecution. But, from this day on, he made it clear that his commitment was to protect the life and dignity of all Jewish people living under the terrible threat of Nazi persecutions, and continuously offered his public prayers in the cathedral for all those being mistreated and victimized.
In October 1941, Monsignor Lichtenberg was arrested and later sentenced to two years in prison, because he was “misusing his office while preaching” and thus causing “turmoil and unrest among the German people” – terms and phrases used by the Nazi authorities.
While in prison, with his health already very poor, his bishop offered him an opportunity to be freed, on the condition that he would remain silent afterward. Monsignor Lichtenberg instead told his bishop that he was happy to stay there as a prisoner of Christ, and was even ready to die for this.
After having finished his prison sentence, the German Central National Security Office would not let him go free because they feared, “this old stubborn priest” would certainly continue with his criticism of the State’s activities. They, therefore, decided to send him to Dachau, the concentration camp near Munich.
But Monsignor Lichtenberg did not survive the long trip. On November 5, 1943, on his way to Dachau, he died in a hospital in the town of Hof, only a few hours after being released from his two-year confinement. Because he died outside of a concentration camp, the Church was able to take his body back to Berlin where he is now buried in the crypt of Saint Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin.
On June 23, 1996, while visiting the city of Berlin, Pope Saint John Paul II beatified Bernhard Lichtenberg as a martyr of the Church, who risked his life for the sake of many of God’s children.
We commemorate his feastday on November 5.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, vatican.va/jubilee_2000 and catholic.co.il)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for One Martyr)
“All-powerful, Ever-living God, You gave Blessed Bernhard the courage to witness to the Gospel of Christ, even to the point of giving his life for it. By his prayers, help us to endure all suffering for love of You and to seek You with all our hearts, for You alone are the Source of life.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”