Embassy of Netherlands pays tribute to Blessed Titus Brandsma
By Vatican News staff writer
On Sunday 15 May Pope Francis will preside over a morning Mass with the canonization of ten Blesseds: Titus Brandsma; Lazarus, also known as Devasahayam; César de Bus; Luigi Maria Palazzolo; Giustino Maria Russolillo; Charles de Foucauld, Marie Rivier; Maria Francesca di Gesù Rubatto; Maria di Gesù Santocanale; and Maria Domenica Mantovani.
The Dutch Embassy to the Holy See is paying tribute to its fellow countryman, Carmelite Father Titus Brandsma, a theologian, journalist, and author who forcefully opposed and spoke out against the anti-Jewish laws the Nazis were passing in Germany before World War II.
He was arrested in January 1942 when Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Nazis told him that he would be allowed to live a quiet life in a monastery if he would announce that Catholic newspapers should publish Nazi propaganda. The Carmelite priest refused, for which he was subject to hardship and starvation in the Dachau concentration camp. He died after being injected with carbolic acid on July 26 that same year. He was 61.
The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Holy See has organized a conference looking at the role Fr. Brandsma played in promoting human rights, freedom of the press, and giving the ultimate sacrifice of his life for these values.
Caroline Weijers, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the Holy See, spoke with Vatican News' Gudrun Sailer about the conference and about the heroic witness of Fr. Brandsma, whose example and legacy can continue to inspire people of all faiths.
Interview of Gudrun Sailer with Ambassador Caroline Weijers
Q: What is Fr. Brandsma’s status today in secularized Dutch Society?
A: Titus Brandsma is a person of many talents. As a priest, he was inspired by Teresa of Avila, Carmelite and Saint. He had an extremely positive attitude to life. As a thinker, philosopher, and mystic, he made an intellectual contribution to the social debate. As professor at and Rector Magnificus of the Catholic University of Nijmegen, which was founded in 1923, he contributed to Catholic emancipation in the Netherlands. As a journalist, he was active in word and certainly in action, speaking out against national socialist ideology and the Nuremberg racial laws, defending freedom of the press, and during the occupation of the Netherlands visiting Catholic newspapers to urge them not to print propaganda. All these aspects made him, certainly when we look back, a special resistance hero. His courage and perseverance are inspiring for many worldwide and certainly also in the Netherlands. Faith, hope, and love, qualities Titus embodied, are not only important for Catholics, Christians, or religious believers, but for all people of goodwill.
Q: Is he known today in Dutch society?
A: He certainly is known in certain segments of society, and for instance, Nijmegen, the University where he was the rector as well, he's well known and greatly respected. I think in a broader sense, people are discovering more about him this year because there is a lot of media attention now.
Q: The embassy of the Netherlands to the Holy See is organising a conference before the canonization on Titus Brandsma and freedom of the press. What does the new Saint tell us today about freedom of the press?
A: Priorities in the work of the embassy of the Netherlands to the Holy See include peace and security, rule of law and justice, climate and the environment, and human rights, which includes freedom of speech and therefore freedom of the press. The symposium, in English, organized by the embassy of the Netherlands to the Holy See together with the International Association of Journalists accredited to the Vatican will take place on Tuesday, 10 May, in Centro Internazionale Sant’Alberto, which is the house where Titus lived during the years that he studied in Rome. The title of this symposium is “Titus Brandsma: The challenges of journalism in dark times.” Obviously, it is about the time when Titus lived and worked and resisted a ruthless occupier and was murdered. It is about his performance as a journalist and about resistance to the Third Reich with special reference to it each time, but this is also an opportunity to examine the current social relevance of what Titus stood for. The theme of the speech of the human rights ambassador of the Netherlands who will come to Rome for this important symposium will be the world needs courageous journalists like Titus Brandsma to make a difference for humanity and human rights for all. The symposium will conclude with a round table discussion with several members of the Vatican journalists’ association on the challenges of journalism and the search for truth in the age of fake news and social media.
Q: What does the persecution of Titus Brandsma, other journalists, and people who voiced their own opinion during the Nazi dictatorship tell us regarding freedom of the press today in our own times?
A: I think in a way it is a warning how careful we have to be about freedom of expression and freedom of press. The number of journalists who are being attacked and sometimes even murdered worldwide is very worrying. It will touch on our rule of law, on elements like transparency, democracy, control by the people of governments, because the people need to be informed. So, I think his life and his death are a warning to all of us.
Q: The difference between Blessed and Saints is that the Blessed are worthy of veneration for their respective local church or religious community, whereas Saints are valid for the whole universal Church. In this sense, to what extent is the Dutchman Titus Brandsma a model for the whole Catholic world?
A: Technically speaking, and as you say as a matter of theological principal, Titus could so far not be venerated worldwide and outside his own Carmelite community. However, his standing, not just in the Netherlands but also in other parts of the world, has been high. For instance, in United States and in the Philippines where the Titus Brandsma prize is awarded every two years to younger journalists and researchers. The values propagated and embodied by Titus Brandsma, which are social engagement, inclusion, love in order to counteract injustice, enmity and inequality, and courage in the face of evil, all these elements transcend geography and religion. I would therefore go even further than what your question implies. Titus is not just an example and inspiration for Catholics worldwide, but for people irrespective of their religious or non-religious background, and in this day and age even more so.