26 April 2009

REMEMBER! St. Charles, King and Martyr, and Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Saint Charles, King and Martyr, who was canonized by the Anglican Church on April 26, 1661, is featured prominently in my sermon tomorrow morning (April 26th) at the Anglican Igreja de São João Evangelista in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. I am including King Charles as one of the saints of the Church who risked all and sacrificed much for his faith, along with the martyrs of the early Church killed by the Romans, St. Thomas Beckett, Capitão Salgueiro Maia (the 25th is Portuguese Independence Day, when Salgueiro Maia's courage was partly responsible for the lack of bloodshed during the governmenal overthow; coincidentally, he died on April 4 of 1992-- Dr. Martin Luther King, the American Protestant religious leader who fought for Civil Rights and against war, was martyred on April 4, 1968), and especially Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese diplomat.

Asigned to Bordeaux, France, Consul Aristides de Sousa Mendes, because of his Catholic faith, chose to disobey his Portugese Fascist government in 1940 and issue entry visas into "neutral" Portugal to perhaps some 50,000 refugees from the Nazis in two days (stopping only when the Nazi bombadment destroyed the Consul). An estimated 30,000, including 10,000 Jews who almost certainly otherwise would have ended up in the Camps, were actually able to get across the Spanish border, cross all of Spain, and get into Portugal (despite the best efforts of the Portuguese "political police").

Sousa Mendes was thrown out of the Diplomatic Corps without a pension, and Salazar's secret police ensured he never worked again... for that matter, his sons had to emigrate, as the very name "Sousa Mendes" was blacklisted across the country. In 1958, he died in abject poverty in a Franciscan hospital-- without even the funds for a burial suit. He was buried in a Franciscan Tertiary shroud donated by the hospital. I think St. Francis, Il Povorello, would approve.

It's ironic that Oskar Schindler, who saved between 1,000 and 1200 lives, should be remembered in best-selling books and a major movie, Schindler's List, while Sousa Mendes, who saved 30 times as many, is virtually unknown, even in Portugal. But then, Hitler died, and the new government honored the enemy of the old. In Portugal, Salazar continued in power until 1968, when he was injured in a fall; the fascist 'New State" fell in a virtually bloodless military coup on April 25, 1974, with free democratic elections followed two years later. Only after the Salazaristas were out of power could Sousa Mendes' name even be published in the Portuguese press. Sousa Mendes, in his willingness to sacrifice himself to love justice, to do mercy, and to walk humbly with his God, was a true hero, but knowledge of that which he defended made those in power uncomfortable, and so he went unremembered. It is too easy for those in power to control knowledge.

St. Charles, King and Martyr, died willingly, because he believed in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. Is it any wonder that his name has been lost from our Kalendar?


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