Jewish-born nun who died at Auschwitz is canonized New saint's feast day to be used to commemorate Holocaust, pope says

October 12, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II bestowed sainthood yesterday on Edith Stein, a Jewish-born Catholic nun executed by the Nazis in 1942, and said the Roman Catholic Church will use her feast day each year to commemorate the Holocaust.

Speaking at a canonization Mass in St. Peter's Square, the pope paid tribute to "the millions of Jewish brothers and sisters" slaughtered by the Nazis and pleaded that there will be no recurrence of such a "brutal plan to wipe out a people."

"For the love of God and man, I once again raise my voice in a heartfelt cry: Never again may such a criminal act be repeated against any ethnic group, any people, any race, in any corner of the Earth," the pope said, drawing applause from a crowd of thousands.

"It is a cry I send out to all men and women of goodwill and all who believe in the eternal and just God," he added in a strong voice. "We should all be together on this. Human dignity is at stake."

The pope's words, delivered under towering marble figures of the Jews who founded Christianity, were an answer to some objections raised by Jews to the elevation of the modern era's first Jewish-born Catholic saint. But his effort did not put the controversy to rest.

Many Jewish leaders still say the church is laying unjust claim to the martyrdom of a woman who died because she was a Jew. Her canonization, they argue, sends a message that the best Jews are those who convert to Catholicism and that the church was exclusively a victim of the Holocaust rather than a collaborator.

Stein, born into a German Jewish family in 1891, was an atheist before her conversion in 1922 in the midst of an academic career as a philosopher. In 1933, the year Adolf Hitler rose to power, she entered a monastery, taking the name Teresia Benedicta of the Cross.

Five years later, she was smuggled out of Germany and sent to Holland, where her Carmelite superiors, aware of her Jewish origin, thought she would be safer. But the Nazis arrested her in 1942, along with 200 other Catholics who were at least part Jewish. She died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz on Aug. 9 that year.

In recounting her final days to a multinational audience that included German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and Jewish members of Stein's family, Pope John Paul acknowledged that the nun was killed because the Nazis considered her a Jew.

The pope also recalled that she turned down a chance to renounce the bishops and save herself from deportation from Holland, telling her captors: "Why should I be excluded? If I cannot share the fate of my brothers and sisters, my life is, in a certain way, destroyed."

She was, the pope said, "an eminent daughter of Israel and a faithful daughter of the church."

In extolling her "quest for truth" that led to religious faith, the pope held up Stein as a role model for Christians, but he was careful not to recommend her path for Jews.

The pope has made Catholic-Jewish reconciliation one of the chief goals of his reign.

But Jews who had protested plans for Stein's sainthood said the pope's words yesterday did not overcome their objections.

"Turning Edith Stein into a saint will not atone for the silence of Pope Pius XII nor for passive collaboration in the anti-Semitism that led to her murder," said Shimon Samuels, European representative of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization.

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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