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On 80th anniversary of Edith Stein’s death, cardinal sees his own family origins

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Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 08/09/22

Jesuit Cardinal Michael Czerny was born in Czechoslovakia; his grandmother died in Auschwitz.

Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, celebrated Mass at the Carmelite Monastery in Auschwitz on this 80th anniversary of St. Edith Stein’s death.

This August 9 feast day marks the 80th anniversary of the death of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed at Auschwitz in 1942. 

“With Edith Stein, I share Jewish origins, the Catholic faith, a vocation to religious life, and several coincidences with my maternal grandmother, Anna Hayek née Löw (1893-1945). They were about the same age and came to a similar end,” the cardinal said.

Michael Czerny was born on July 18, 1946, in Brno, Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic). When he was only two years old, his parents emigrated to Canada with him and his younger brother—a baby just a few months old—in the face of the threat of Communist totalitarianism.

The cardinal has recently been in the public eye, as he was one of the Pope’s envoys to Ukraine, and also travelled with him to Canada. He is also a member of the Jesuits, the same spiritual family as Pope Francis.

When Czerny was made a cardinal, he shared an image of the Flight Into Egypt that was painted by his grandmother.

“The suffering imposed on the Ukrainian and Russian populations, the ever more numerous refugees and victims, oblige us to remember the Holocaust. The Holocaust must help us to seriously question the path taken by humanity since the end of the World War II, nearly eight decades ago,” he said in his homily, Vatican News reported.

“For this reason,” the cardinal went on to say, quoting Psalm 118, “in order to scrutinize the past, so that we can better understand the present and commit ourselves to the future, we need to illuminate it with the Word of God, a lamp for our steps and a light for our path.”

Transformation into the Son Made Man

“Edith Stein exemplifies how a life spent in love can be a slow journey of opening up, of being transformed into the Son Made Man. The beautiful expression of Veritatis Splendor (Splendour of Truth) can be applied to her pilgrimage as a woman, a philosopher, a pedagogue, a contemplative, a Saint.”

She was a woman, he said, who understood that “God is always “beyond”: beyond all reasoning, beyond all phenomena, beyond all human activity.”

Honoring his grandmother

Recalling the experiences of his own family, the cardinal spoke of his grandmother Anna and how both their lives came to a similar end.

“So Auschwitz links the witness and relics of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross with my grandmother’s story and spirit, wherever her remains may lie. For me it is very moving to celebrate Edith Stein’s 80th anniversary and, at the same time and place, the 77th of Anna Löw, to mourn my grandmother and honour her, to think of her reunited with all our family and also with St Teresa Benedicta.”

Concluding his homily, Cardinal Czerny remembered both Edith and Anna with the six million others, who are mourned and who will never be forgotten.

“Through their intercession, we pray for peace in Ukraine and throughout the world, “Never again one against the other, never, never again!… never again war, never again war!” And may those whose personal and family histories are both Jewish and Christian, contribute to the necessary dialogue between our faiths so as to live as fratelli tutti, siblings all, in our common home.”

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