Church to beatify Fr Giuseppe Beotti, killed by Nazis in 1944

Pope Francis authorizes the promulgation of Decrees that recognize the martyrdom of Fr Giuseppe Beotti at the hands of the Nazis, and advance the causes of eight other Servants of God.

By Paolo Ondarza

During an audience on Saturday with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, Pope Francis authorised the promulgation of the Decree recognising the martyrdom of Venerable Father Giuseppe Beotti, who was killed by the Nazis in 1944.

The Decrees also recognize the heroic virtues of eight Servants of God who thus become Venerable: two priests (Simon Mpeke from Cameroon and Pedro de la Virgen del Carmen from Spain); two religious (Brazilian Tereza Margarida do Coração de Maria and Italian Edda Roda); and four lay people (the young Brazilian seminarian Guido Vidal França Schäffer, Italian catechist Arnaldo Canepa, and two Italian women, Maria Cristina Ogier and Lorena D'Alessandro, who died of cancer at a young age).

Assistance for those fleeing Nazism

Giuseppe Beotti was born in 1912 into a farming family and became a Diocesan priest on 2 April 1938. He immediately distinguished himself for his assiduous charitable work on behalf of the needy and his commitment to the education of young people. He offered his help to all: partisans, Jews, soldiers, the wounded. During the German occupation, he defended the rights of his parishioners and was then subjected to criminal proceedings, which came to nothing.

Father Giuseppe Beotti
Father Giuseppe Beotti

He rescued and sheltered fleeing soldiers; prisoners who had escaped from the war; and those who were persecuted, including some hundred Jewish people that he in cottages with the help of his parishioners.

Faced with the danger of Nazi round-ups and reprisals, Fr Giuseppe did not flee, but remained in his church in Sidolo, in the province of Parma, assiduous in prayer. He was arrested and shot on 20 July 1944 in Sidolo, together with a priest and a seminarian who had taken refuge in the church with him. His murder was motivated by the Nazis' hatred of the transgressors of their criminal anti-Semitic law.

Spreading the Gospel in Cameroon

The Servant of God Father Simon Mpeke was one of the founders of the Fraternity of Priests Iesus Caritas of St Charles de Foucauld in Cameroon. He was born at the beginning of the last century into a family of pagan peasants of the Bakoko ethnic group.

Fascinated by Christianity as a young man, he converted, left home and entered the seminary to become a priest in 1935. He distinguished himself for the depth of his spiritual life and pastoral dedication. Fluent in several languages, he was the first Cameroonian fidei donum missionary in the north of the country. The area was inhabited by people of Sudanese origin, including both Muslims and followers of traditional religions.

Father Simon Mpeke
Father Simon Mpeke

Travelling through the mountains, Fr Simon Mpeke – affectionately known as “Baba Simon” to the local people – preached the Gospel to the indigenous Kirdi people. He was close to the poor and sick, and evangelised through works such as preaching and building schools. Moved by his example, a fervent Christian community soon sprang up.

Father Simon Mpeke saw in Christ the fulfilment of the hopes that were also present in other religious denominations: with this conviction, he fostered the passage of non-Christians to the knowledge of Jesus. He also committed himself to human advancement, overcoming many prejudices, including the idea that illness was a divine punishment.

Bringing the Gospel to schools and to the sick

Pedro de la Virgen del Carmen was a priest of the Order of the Poor Regular Clerics of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools (Piarists) in Spain. He was educated by the Order first at the school of Blessed Manuel Segura, a martyr of religious persecution in Spain; and then at that of Blessed Faustino Oteiza.

Father Pedro de la Virgen del Carmen
Father Pedro de la Virgen del Carmen

During World War II, he was sent to the front as a military chaplain, where he remained until the end of the war. Returning to Zaragoza, he lived in deep union with Jesus contemplated in the Eucharist, carrying out an intense activity in the school, visiting the sick, hearing confessions, and taking part in the St Vincent de Paul Conference.

Devoted to the Virgin Mary and a model for his pupils, he was an authentic witness to the Gospel. His commitment to teaching was rewarded with a civil honour from the State. He suffered acutely as a young man from a stomach ulcer that led to his death in the 1980s.

An apostle of consolation

The Servant of God Edda Roda, a nun of the Institute of the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto who lived in Bergamo, Italy, between 1940 and 1996, bears witness to perseverance in the faith despite suffering.

Sister Edda Roda
Sister Edda Roda

She suffered from 'asthenic syndrome', which caused her physical collapses and mood swings, but never tired of bringing a smile to the families she visited, organising prayer meetings or accompanying people in painful situations with dedication.

During one of the Popular Missions she carried out in Italy between 1980 and 1995, Sister Edda was beaten and raped by three men. Sister Edda kept this traumatic event secret, not allowing it to stop in her missionary activity.

In the last year of her life, she was diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer. She bore her sufferings without complaining, but rather by transforming them into an offering of love. As her diaries testify, the illness became a path of purification for her.

A model of faith

From Brazil comes the witness of the Servant of God Tereza Margarida do Coração de Maria, a nun of the Order of Discalced Carmelites who lived between 1915 and 2005. She served as vice-novice mistress and sub-prioress in the Carmelite Order at the Shrine of Aparecida.

Sister Tereza Margarida do Coração de Maria
Sister Tereza Margarida do Coração de Maria

Together with seven sisters she started a monastery at Três Pontas where she became a point of reference for the sisters and the faithful who turned to her – calling her Nossa Mãe – for advice, spiritual direction, and help. She committed herself to living the decrees of the Second Vatican Council with the Community, and was attentive to the biblical, spiritual, and liturgical formation of the sisters. A lung disease, which she lived with tireless prayer, led to her death.

Daily service to the children of the peripheries

A layman, catechist, Roman, the Servant of God Arnaldo Canepa lived in the Italian capital between 1882 and 1966. Orphaned by his father at only 14 years of age, he fell away from the practice of his faith, and initially devoted himself successfully to commerce.

Arnaldo Canepa
Arnaldo Canepa

In 1921, following a confession in the church of Santa Maria Odigitria, he began a fervent Christian life. He became a Franciscan tertiary and catechist in the parish of St Mary of the Angels, where he joined the Conference of St Vincent de Paul and the Marian Congregation. In the deprived neighbourhood of Quadraro, he adapted a shed to facilitate access to catechism for the children of the area. He dedicated himself to the latter on a daily basis, starting an oratory in which to spiritually develop the younger generations and materially assist the most needy. The activity was closed down due to pressure from the fascist regime, but the pastoral initiatives inspired by the Servant of God spread to the suburbs throughout Rome.

Always looking to the examples of St Francis, St Philip Neri and St John Bosco, in 1943 Arnaldo started the 'Federation of Roman Oratories', later called the 'Centre of Roman Oratories' (C.O.R) founded on four pillars: Mass and catechism; daily oratory; various monthly special activities and missionary apostolate; devotion to Our Lady. Thanks to his example, by the early 1950s, more than half of the parishes in the diocese had an oratory. He decided to spend his last years in a spirit of poverty and service, comforted by frequent Eucharistic adoration and the prayer of the Rosary, in a small, open room in the clinic of Santa Maria della Fiducia.

Witness of Jesus among the sick, the young, and athletes

Caring for Aids sufferers; providing assistance and medical service; and evangelisation work offered to the poor and marginalised in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro characterised the youthful years of Guido Vidal França Schäffer, a young doctor born in 1974, who in the 1990s, together with his then-girlfriend and a priest, started the prayer group Fogo do Espírito Santo in the parish.

Guido Vidal França Schäffer
Guido Vidal França Schäffer

Later, after participating in the 1997 family gathering on the occasion of the visit of St. John Paul II to Rio de Janeiro, and in 2000 during a trip to Europe at the beatification of the Brazilian protomartyrs, he decided to enter the seminary.

At the same time as his studies, Guido enthusiastically devoted himself to evangelisation and medical practice. Those who knew him remember his deep friendship with Jesus, his familiarity with biblical texts and the enthusiasm with which he spoke of the Lord.

For the love of God he practised fasting and penance with simplicity and discretion. Even when he took surfing lessons, his favourite sport, he began his training with prayer. In 2009, while at sea on the Recreio dos Bandeirantes beach in Rio de Janeiro, he was hit on the head by his surfboard and drowned.

The joy of the faith even in illness

The Italian Servant of God Maria Cristina Ogier lived only 19 years, from 1955 and 1974. Born in Florence, she was diagnosed with an encephalic base tumour at the age of four. She had surgery in Sweden, but was warned of a short life expectancy. She showed great faith in accepting the illness, which caused her considerable motor difficulties. She offered her sufferings to God for the expiation of sins.

Maria Cristina Ogier
Maria Cristina Ogier

In Lourdes, she consecrated herself to Mary. Contagious in the joy of her friendship with the Lord, she devoted herself to fundraising for charitable works that seemed difficult to achieve. For her First Communion and Confirmation, she did not want any gifts, but asked that they be donated to the needy.

Maria Cristina loved hiding, but her witness and her action in caring for the lonely and needy elderly had great resonance. She also took an interest in the social and political issues arising out of the ideological turmoil of those years, doing her utmost in the pro-life debate in connection with the first attempts to legalise abortion. She set up a riverboat equipped as a small hospital that she sent to the Amazon and which bears her name. A year before her death, she began to study medicine and entered the Franciscan Third Order.

Sharing in the Cross of Christ

The eighth Servant of God to become Venerable is also Italian: Lorena D'Alessandro, who lived in Rome between 1964 and 1981. At the age of 10 she was diagnosed with a tumour on her left tibia. She underwent a bone transplant, but the recurrence of the disease made it necessary to amputate her leg.

Lorena D'Alessandro
Lorena D'Alessandro

In spite of her suffering, she attended school and parish, becoming involved as a catechist for First Communion, in voluntary work and taking convinced positions in line with the Gospel in years marked by social protest and the abortion debate.

Lorena had a strong sense of friendship and solidarity. She attended the Renewal in the Spirit and was inspired by the spirituality of the Taizé Community. She travelled to Lourdes and wrote her will on her return.

At the age of just 16, the tumour recurred in her left lung and metastasized. Her spiritual diary testifies to her faith, her devotion to the Eucharist, and her joy in spite of her suffering, which always lived as a participation in the Cross of Christ.

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20 May 2023, 15:19