A member of our congregation, Fr. Engelmar Unzeitig, has been recognized officially as a saintly person last September 24 in a ceremony during which he was declared BLESSED. In the following article Fr. Yves La Fontaine CMM explores the ministry of Fr Engelmar Unzeitig CMM, who died in Dachau concentration camp, and his significance for our times in the Year of Mercy. Fr Engelmar was named “the Angel of Dachau” and “Martyr of Charity.”
Mercy in hell? Is this possible? When I watch TV reports on the massive destruction of the senseless war of Syria, read about human trafficking and modern slavery, see the awful and endless tragedies of refugees on my screen, I am distressed with indignation – as many of you must be. Then comes the question: where is God in our barbarian world? The same question was asked about the Nazi concentration camps.
As Benedict XVI said at Auschwitz: “In the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature!”
Yet, in spite of such unspeakable deeds, as a newspaper said, there were angels there. God’s messengers! One of them was Fr Engelmar Unzeitig, CMM, a member of my congregation, who was beatified last September 24. I have decided to take him as my angel of God’s mercy. Yes, an angel in the hell of Dachau!
Soon we will celebrate Mission Sunday, permeated this year by the distinct light of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. It invites us to consider our missionary task as “a great, immense work of mercy.” We are all missionary disciples, asked to go out and generously offer our knowledge, creativity and experience in order to bring the message of God’s boundless tenderness and compassion to the entire human family.
Our Christian God is rich in mercy indeed. He wants us all to experience his love. But only a personal experience of his most generous tenderness will make us announce his mercy, “the beating heart of the Gospel” (Misericordiae Vultus, 12). There is no alternative to this. It is there that we find our missionary mandate: in our being stirred to the depths of our beings by Christ’s mercy. Only then are we able to live it and make it known to all, whatever our situation, our capabilities or age – each one according to his vocation and in his or her way.
The greatness and power of our God reveals itself precisely in his capacity to identify with all in all situations without any distinction, especially with the marginalised, the poor and destitute. He involves himself tenderly in our human reality just as a father and mother do in the lives of their children. It may even be better to talk of his motherly love, a love coming from the womb.
Words, words, words! This, in a way, is our world. But we would do well to remember that the most eloquent way to speak in our age is not in words but in actions. Fr Unzeitig gave his all, his strength, talents, time and energy, willingly and joyfully, for the sake of others, the neediest in particular. In him we see a concrete image of our Mother-God’s extreme mercy.
Fr Engelmar feeds us in many ways with God’s abundant mercy. He was just 30 when he was sent to Dachau in 1941. His crime? He encouraged his parishioners to be faithful to God and to resist the lies of the Nazi regime, showing thus that he was in no way a racist. He took the initiative to study Russian to be able to help the influx of prisoners from Eastern Europe. And when a wave of the deadly typhoid fever swept through the camp, he and 19 other priests volunteered to do the impossible: to nurse prisoners in the barracks affected by the epidemic, bathing and caring for the neediest, consoling them, praying with them and offering them the last rites.
This profoundly human and priestly response was an almost certain death sentence – for Fr Engelmar did die from this disease on 2 March 1945 at the age of 34. No wonder that he is called “the Maximilian Kolbe of the Germans,” but also the “Angel of Dachau,” and “Martyr of charity.” His inmates bore magnificent witness to his holiness. One said of him: “He im-pressed me immediately, for he was radiating simplicity, humility and modesty as well as a constant inner joy.” Another declared: He “was the personification of love. More I cannot say about him. That is what he was: Love!”
The treatment of the priests 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. Here one can only guess at the kind of unimaginable atrocity and horror he and others faced every day. Yes, Dachau was hell on earth.
How to explain then that Fr Engelmar did not become deeply depressed, even insane, in this inferno? He found sustenance in God’s own mysterious presence, in his tremendous faith in God’s goodness and in his service to the neediest.
Fr Engelmar was simple, humble and modest, and recollected. Even innerly joyful! How could he applause and acclaim God’s goodness and see everything as a grace while all that appeared around him indicated that this was the triumph of evil. His writings confirm this. He was a missionary at heart, blessed with a truly saintly life! A God-given gem!
In the light of these events we are faced with an inescapable challenge: are our hearts wide open to let that grace disturb, trouble, stir and foment the innermost depths of our life? It is useless to know and even admire a saint if we do not even come close to wanting this connec-tion… and even wanting to imitate the saint.
As I am saying this, I feel terribly ashamed when I consider the compelling message of Pope Francis. He reminded that we are all called to “go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.” Are we willing to learn to “love as our God loves us and make of our lives a free gift, a sign of his goodness?”
For this to happen, we need to convert from the smugness, insensitivity, even indifference, in which we shut ourselves away in our contemporary world, with all its human misery and tragedy, situations that call for our personal involvement in acts of compassionate mercy.
Ooooooow Nkosi ,
What an experience at Emaus for our first gathering to promote Abbot Francis! We had around 2000 people who came to pray Abbot Francis for special graces. Yes, people are confirming that the spirit of Abbot Francis is here at Emaus. Let us share this news about Abbot Francis and Emaus.
Thamie Njecks-Dlabazan, CMM
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
A great and most joyful news for the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill! Our Fr. Engelmar Unzeitig’s martyrdom has been officially approved by Pope Francis on 21/01/2016, which means that he will be beatified soon. He died in a concentration camp in 1945, Let’s pray through his intercession for our needs.
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.
After many efforts to get hold of every one of the members of the “Historical Commission” and of the tribunal – made of the episcopate delegate, the promoter of justice and the notary – I finally succeeded to organize a meeting of the tribunal on the 28th of May in Umzimkulu. It was the first time that such a meeting took place in Umzimkulu, which is the place where all the sessions of the tribunal must take place by law – the diocese where the Servant of God died. All were present except two members of the “Historical Commission”, Dr Joy Brain, historian, who is now too weak to travel and Fr. Pius Paul OSB, who was still on home leave in Europe.
This meeting of the tribunal was preceded by a very last meeting of the Historical Commission whose members still wanted to bring in some last minute minor and yet meaningful additions to their report. It went rather quickly and efficiently and all the members signed the report.
Afterwards the tribunal meeting began with a prayer and the countersigning of their citations by all the participants called for the meeting. Then the President of the Commission of Experts in Historical and Archival Matters – this is the official name of this commission -, Br Philippe Denis OP, lecturer in Church history, handed in the report (relatio), the notary took note of this handing in and the episcopal delegate ordered that this report be put in the acts of the inquiry. Afterwards, one after the other the 10 members of the Commission present all took the oath required after their work is brought to its end. Again the notary took note of all this and all those documents were officially put in the acts of the inquiry. Of course all the proceedings were noted in minutes, which are also part of the documentation.
On June 8 two other short sessions of the tribunal took place. Since the theological censors had not yet taken their oath after their work was finished, they did it then. It was, strictly speaking, a very technical session.
Right after this meeting the members of the tribunal headed for the house of Dr. Joy Brain to take her oath since she was not able to attend the 28 May meeting of Umzimkulu. Again a strictly speaking technical meeting.
With these meetings one can say that an important phase of the diocesan inquiry is over.
A new poster of Abbot Francis is now available. There are two dimensions: one is A1, that is, 59.4 x 84.1cm and the other is A3, that is, 29.7 x 42.0cm.
If you wish to have one you can order it from the Mariannhill Repository:
Phone: 031 700 4288
031 700 1031
Fax: 031 700 4244
In the diocesan phase comes a time when the so-called “Historical Commission,” which is made of experts in history and archives, has to study all the writings of Abbot Francis as well as all those about him and his work. This is an important step in the whole process. The sum of this documentation is actually contained in 60 full boxes of documents – thousands of them.
This work progressed regularly and was even almost completed when it was discovered that the Nihil Obstat (a no-objection declaration from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Vatican) had not been requested by the previous postulator. This was then done. The Rt Rev. Bishop Stanislaw Dziuba, OPPE, the competent bishop, received the answer of the above-mentioned Congregation at the end of June 2013. This of course delayed considerably the conclusion of the work of the Commission. This, because it could not conclude its report before knowing if it had to study new documents coming from the archives of the Vatican.
The “Historical Commission” was actually able to conclude its report in January 2014 when it met for the last time. This could be achieved after the Superior General certified in writing that he had the moral certainty that all the various archives, including those of the CEP, had been investigated “rite ac plene” (duly and fully) and after the Commission had examined some new and recent documents published in the meantime, this to satisfy itself that nothing important had been missed. The final report was signed during that same meeting after a list of various questions and corrections were made, for the sake of accuracy, and after it was complemented with a substantial bibliography and footnotes.
The next step will consist in formalizing the whole work of the “Historical Commission” in a tribunal session (oath taking and witnessing of the members) to take place in a near future. The list of all the archives investigated will also need to be carefully checked to make sure all are listed.
After that step, the postulator will have to prepare carefully the closing of the diocesan process and the sending of its whole documentation to Rome.
Fr. Yves La Fontaine, CMM