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It’s quite unique in the history of the Church: An entire family is going to be beatified, due to martyrdom inflicted out of hatred for the faith. It’s the Ulm family, including the parents Jozef and Wiktoria, but also Stanisława, age 7, Barbara, 6, Władysław, 5, Franciszek, 4, Antoni, 2, Maria, 1 and a half years old, as well as the seventh child, still in the womb of the mother who was 8 months pregnant on the day of her murder, making a total of nine blesseds. They were killed by Nazis in 1944.
On December 17, 2022, during an audience with the prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, Pope Francis approved a decree on the martyrdom of the Ulm family of Markowa, Poland. On the official website of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints (currently only available in Italian), this main introductory note appears:
Venerable Servants of God Jozef and Wiktoria Ulm and their seven children († March 24, 1944). A married lay couple with seven children, murdered out of hatred of their faith on March 24, 1944, who, although aware of the risks and financial difficulties, hid a Jewish family in their house for a year and a half. When discovered, they were all murdered, including the child in Victoria’s womb.
The beatification of the nine members of the Ulm family, which is likely already imminent, has great theological and pastoral significance that goes far beyond the simple veneration of the Markowa martyrs.
It’s well known that to be recognized as a saint and martyr it’s necessary, among other things, that the candidates have voluntarily and sincerely decided to give their life for another, and that before their death the candidates have practiced Christian virtues, that the candidates had a reputation for holiness, and that a proven miracle occurred after their death through their intercession. The Ulm parents paid for the heroic decision to take in a Jewish family not only with their own lives, but also with those of their children who, given their respective ages, could hardly realize what they were participating in and what was happening. This means that the youngest of the Ulms – as well as their unborn child – are considered by the Church to be martyrs who died for the faith and for heroically following Christ.
Baptized or not, they are all saints
The beatification of young children serves as a reminder of the importance of baptism. The Church has an unshakeable certainty of faith regarding the salvation of baptized children who die before they attain the consciousness and will which allows them to commit a personal sin.
Furthermore, the case of the youngest child who was yet to be born, who will soon receive the honor due to the blessed on an equal footing with his or her parents and baptized siblings, constitutes an important premise for the Church’s reflection on the fate of children who died before baptism.
The Church will express, in the act of beatification, her absolute and unshakeable certainty of the child’s sanctity, that is, of their salvation. This is a major development. In the case of the youngest Ulm, it’s no longer a question of hope of salvation, but of certainty, as the child received the “baptism of blood” by suffering martyrdom with the mother. The Church also recognizes and uses the category of “baptism of desire,” that is, the situation in which parents wish to baptize their child but cannot do so for some reason.