Priest of SA-founded order a martyr
The Southern Cross, February 10 to February 16, 2016
A priest of an order that was founded in South Africa will be beatified as a martyr to Nazism.
Fr Engelmar Unzeitig, who has been called “Angel of Dachau”, belonged to the Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries, an order founded by Abbot Franz Pfanner in 1909 in KwaZulu-Natal.
A young priest with Czech roots serving in Germany and Austria, Fr Unzeitig was arrested by the Nazis on April 21, 1941.
His crime? Preaching against the Third Reich from his pulpit, particularly against their treatment of Jews. He encouraged his congregation to be faithful to God and to resist the lies of the Nazi regime.
As punishment, Fr Unzeitig was sent to what has been called the “largest monastery in the world”: Dachau concentration camp, near Munich, which became renowned for the number of ministers and priests within its walls.
The camp housed some 2700 clergy, about 95% of whom were Catholic priests, making it one of the largest residences for priests in the history of the Church.
Fr Unzeitig was just 30 years old, and two years ordained, when he was sent to Dachau. Born in 1911 as Hubert Unzeitig in Greifendorf, in what is now the Czech Republic, Fr Unzeitig joined the seminary at the age of 18 and became a priest for the Mariannhill Missionaries, whose motto is: “If no one else will go: I will go.” There he was given the religious name Engelmar.
While imprisoned in the concentration camp, he studied Russian in order to be able to help the influx of prisoners from Eastern Europe, and had a reputation at the camp as a holy man.
Treatment of the priests and ministers at Dachau was unpredictable— sometimes they were allowed to worship, at others they were severely treated. On one particular Good Friday, dozens of priests were selected for torture to mark the occasion.
For several years, Fr Unzeitig was able to remain in relatively stable health despite the poor treatment he received. However, when a wave of the often-fatal typhoid fever swept through the camp in 1945, he and 19 other priests volunteered to do what no one else wanted to: care for the sick and dying in the typhoid barracks, an almost-certain death sentence in and of itself.
He and his companions spent their days bathing and caring for the sick, praying with them and offering last rites.
On March 2, 1945, Fr Unzeitig succumbed to typhoid fever himself.
Pope Francis officially acknowledged Fr Unzeitig as a martyr who died as a result of hatred of the faith, which opens the path for his beatification, the next step in becoming a canonised saint.—CNA
By Mauricio Langa, The Southern Cross
THE “historical commission” which examined thoroughly the whole documentation of the life and work of Abbot Francis Pfanner, chiefly from a historical and archival
point of view, has ended its work.
Its report was handed in by its president, Br Philippe Denis OP, lecturer in Church history, to Mgr Paul Nadal, episcopal delegate of Stanislaw Dziuba of Umzimkulu diocese.
With this, an important phase of the diocesan inquiry in the sainthood cause of the Austrian-born founder of the Mariannhill Missionaries is over.
Fr Yves La Fontaine, the postulator for the cause, has published a booklet entitled The Spirituality of Abbot Francis Pfanner and Consecrated Life Today.
The booklet is based on a talk on Abbot Pfanner which Fr La Fontaine gave to religious at the Emaus Heritage Centre in Umzimkulu earlier this year.
“I simply got the idea that I should take this opportunity to make my contribution available to a wider public of religious,” he said.
“And it was by looking more closely at what Pope Francis expected from religious during this special Year of Consecrated Life that I began to prepare myself.”
In the booklet he draws from his own experience in the consecrated life through the spirituality of Abbot Pfanner.
“It did some good to me personally. Then I thought: ‘Why could it not help others then?’ ”
He described the booklet as “a kind of examination of conscience in the light of elements which can be found in any religious institute”.
“Such a soul-searching can certainly be profitable for any religious. With God’s grace it can lead to some conversions, to a greater conformity to Christ’s sentiments, to true joy, as Pope Francis hopes, and to a lifestyle that will really be an alternative way
of living in today’s world,” Fr La Fontaine said.
The Spirituality of Abbot Francis Pfanner and Consecrated Life Today can be bought for R40 a copy from the Monastery repository on 031 700 1031.
The 2015 Yearly Pilgrimage to Emaus
Once more this year’s pilgrimage for the two provinces of Mariannhill and Mthatha of the CMM and CPS witnessed the participation of many lay people who joined us. Since the last few years we have progressively opened our pilgrimage also to lay people who have a true veneration for Abbot Francis. And to our satisfaction, many responded. In short, we had a good crowd.
This year’s theme was Abbot Francis, A Man Totally Committed to His Religious and Missionary Vocation. This theme arose from the special year of Consecrated Life, which is a privileged occasion for religious to renew themselves.
Verse 17 of the first reading “Brothers, be united in imitating me” pointed to Paul as a model; more precisely, to the model of a man totally committed to his vocation. In the same way we were invited to remain united to Abbot Francis who was also fully dedicated to his vocations as religious and missionary and to look at him as a special model for us. The gospel stated that Jesus’ commitment is rooted in or comes from his Father’s love; therefore he “remained in him.” This was a clear invitation for us to also remain in him. Just like Abbot Francis did. We were reminded therefore that this stability in God’s love lies in the Ora of the famous Ora et Labora or, in other words, in the contemplative aspect of our lives.
Part of the crowd beginning the stations of the cross
The president and homilist of the Eucharistic celebration was a great friend of Mariannhill, Bishop Emeritus Hubert Bucher – who lives at Mater Dolorosa. As to the choir it was made of the group of our CMM novices and of a group of young CPS sisters. Needless to say that their execution, which was great, helped a packed assembly to make of its prayer a radiant celebration. Among other things, right from the beginning they vibrantly connected us to Abbot Francis himself with their execution of O Francis Pfanner and inspiring words like “You told us once: The flame of your true zeal let it soar!” and “Each good and true grace and each good thought, Each holy hope of heart, all comes from God!”
A few years ago we stopped ending our pilgrimage with the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament because the via crucis was taking a bit more time than before; we then opted for a more personal commitment. Each pilgrim was strongly invited to go to the “memorial room” – where Abbot Francis died – and there to take a few minutes of personal prayer to submit to Abbot Francis one or several personal intentions or to entrust to him the needs of other people, this just before leaving the place. This seems to be successful.