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 CNS Story:

POPE-BEATIFICATIONS Oct-4-2004 (860 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope beatifies five, including German nun who inspired Gibson film

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Advancing the sainthood causes of five Europeans, Pope John Paul II beatified the last Hapsburg emperor and the nun whose visions inspired Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ."

The pope said Blessed Charles I of Austria, who died in exile in 1922, was "a friend of peace, in whose eyes war was something terrible." The emperor's commitment to Christian values should be a model for European politicians today, he added.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, the pope said, showed heroic patience and firm faith in dealing with years of ill health. The pope did not mention the German mystic's controversial book of visions on Christ's final days, for which she is best known.

The pope, seated on an altar platform decorated with flowers, listened as biographies of the newly beatified were read aloud at the start of the Oct. 3 Mass in St. Peter's Square. Some 20,000 people, including several hundred European royalty, applauded when tapestry portraits of the five "blesseds" were unveiled on the face of St. Peter's Basilica.

The pope presided over the Liturgy of the Word, but the eucharistic liturgy was celebrated by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Congregation for Saints' Causes.

The 84-year-old pontiff sounded short of breath as he read only the introductory lines and the last few sentences of his sermon. Aides read most of the text.

The pope praised Blessed Emmerich's identification with the suffering of Christ, noting that she bore the stigmata, the wounds of the crucifixion. The daughter of a German peasant couple, she worked as a seamstress and servant before entering an Augustinian convent in 1802, where she was bedridden for years. She soon became known for her visions of the supernatural and "conversations" with Jesus.

Gibson said he was inspired to make his movie after reading Sister Emmerich's book of visions, "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." A few of the details in the book made it into his film -- as when Mary and Mary Magdalene use towels furnished by Pontius Pilate's wife to wipe up the blood of the scourged Christ.

Jewish leaders have said the negative portrayal of Jews in her writings was picked up and popularized by the Gibson film.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement Sept. 27 that while Jewish leaders understand that Blessed Emmerich was being recognized by the church for her virtuous life and deep faith "it cannot be contested that in addition to the aid she offered many of her co-religionists, hatred and anti-Semitism were fomented in her name."

The written biography in the beatification Mass booklet said Blessed Emmerich's words have reached innumerable people and represent "an outstanding proclamation of the Gospel." But her mystic writings received only a passing reference during the Mass, and the pope did not mention them at all in his sermon.

Before the liturgy, Vatican experts said the writings had been discarded as evidence during the sainthood review process because it was uncertain whether she actually wrote the book.

"We simply cannot say for certain that she ever wrote this," Jesuit Father Peter Gumpel told Catholic News Service Oct. 1. Father Gumpel helped study the issue for the Vatican's sainthood congregation.

Sister Emmerich was practically illiterate, and her visions were transcribed and elaborated by a popular romantic poet, Clemens Brentano, who published them after Sister Emmerich's death at age 49 in 1824.

Father Gumpel said it is today impossible to distinguish what came from Blessed Emmerich and what was added by the poet Brentano. Therefore, the writings were disregarded by the Vatican, he said.

The beatification of Blessed Charles I, who also ruled Hungary as King Charles IV, stirred controversy among Austrians who consider him an ambivalent historical figure.

The Vatican liturgy highlighted his support of Pope Benedict XV's peace efforts during World War I -- a point recognized by many historians. But others have said he ordered the use of poison gas during the war, lied about seeking a secret peace deal with France and made strategic mistakes that led to the capture of hundreds of thousands of Austrian troops.

The three others beatified were:

-- French Father Joseph-Marie Cassant, a Cistercian monk who was best known for his prayer life and his devotion to the Eucharist. He died of tuberculosis in 1903 at the age of 25.

-- Italian Sister Ludovica de Angelis, a member of the Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy, who gained fame for her work at a church-run children's hospital in Buenos Aires. She died in 1962.

-- French Father Pierre Vigne, an "itinerant missionary" of the 17th and 18th centuries, who would sometimes carry his confessional on his back as he walked through rural France. His devotion to the Eucharist led him to found the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. He died at the age of 70 in 1740.

After the Mass, the pope struggled to pronounce greetings in four languages, inviting Catholics around the world to pray the rosary during the month of October.


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