Pope Francis on April 18 noted the beatification on the previous day of six Cistercian monks.
… in the Abbey of Casamari, [Father Simon] Cardon and five companion martyrs, Cistercian monks of that Abbey, were proclaimed Blessed.
In 1799, when French soldiers withdrawing from Naples sacked churches and monasteries, these meek disciples of Christ resisted with heroic courage, unto death, to defend the Eucharist from desecration.
May their example spur us to a greater commitment of fidelity to God, even capable of transforming society and making it more just and fraternal. A round of applause for the new Blesseds!
Here is more of their incredible story:
In the spring of 1799, the French army, which was occupying Naples at the time, suffered several defeats that forced its troops to retreat northward. During this retreat, a detachment of soldiers led by the French general François Macdonald plundered several abbeys. After having ransacked Monte Cassino and the village of Isola del Liri, some 15 soldiers, probably drunk, burst into the Cistercian abbey of Casamari while the monks were preparing to pray Compline.
Their actions during that night of May 12, 1799, and into May 13 left six monks viciously murdered.
The monks tried to make the soldiers understand that there was not much to loot, but the men searched the building, and went about desecrating the church. The violence quickly spread to the Tabernacle. Many of the monks fled the Abbey and hid in the fields. Six stayed behind. These men wanted to protect Jesus.
They had stayed behind to save Jesus Christ, present in the Holy Eucharist. Our Lord had been safely in repose inside the Tabernacle, and the monks wanted to protect Him. They would die trying.
The men were slain “in odium fidei,” out of hatred of the faith. They had previously fled France because of the threat posed by the Revolution.
The monks were:
- Father Cardon who had refused to take the oath for the Civil Constitution of the Clergy;
- Brother Mathurin Marie Pitri, a Bohemian monk from the Austrian empire;
- Brother Modeste Marie Burgen, a religious from Sept-Fons who had sought refuge at Casamari;
- Brother Albertino Marie Maisonade, who was unable to live his vocation in France;
- Brother Zosimo Maria Brambat, a young religious from Milan;
- Father Domenico Maria Zawrel, a man hunted by the French Republic.
When this massacre occurred, the superior of the community, Fr. Siméon Cardon, had been living in Italy for three years. Dismayed by the Revolution, this priest from Cambrai managed, not without difficulty, to reach Casamari in May 1797. When the soldiers disembarked on May 12-13, 1799, he became frightened and hid in the grotto in the garden to escape them.
Full of remorse, he finally returned to his cell to accompany his brothers. Struck repeatedly with a sword, he finally died the next day in front of General Baron Thiébault. With his last breath, the religious told him about the carnage he had witnessed.
A former religious of the abbey of Sept-Fons in Burgundy, Br. Modeste-Marie Burgen was also forced to leave his monastery after the suppression of religious orders in France. This monk, described as exemplary by his brothers, was murdered in the corridor of the novitiate.
Originally from Bordeaux, Br. Albert Maison received the monastic habit in Casamari in 1792 after having fled his country. When the attack occurred, he tried to transfer the hosts from the chapel to the infirmary and then joined two other brothers in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Two blows to the head left him lifeless.
Fr. Maturin Pitré was involved against his will in the French military campaigns in Italy. He became seriously ill and was hospitalized with 11 of his fellow soldiers in the hospital of Veroli. Once he was cured, he asked to return to Casamari in order to dedicate himself to God. May 13, 1799, the night of his martyrdom, was only a few months later.
All of these men were massacred by the band of soldiers, who were most likely spurred to commit their acts by too much wine. They destroyed the Tabernacle, leaving it in pieces.
We ask the Martrys of Casamari to pray for us all.