by Pat Gaffney
General Secretary, Pax Christi UK
On 18 March, in Bolzano Cathedral, Italy, another ‘Blessed’ will be added to the community of women and men who have witnessed to Gospel nonviolence: Josef Mayr-Nusser, born in the Austrian Tyrol in 1910. A family man, his faith was informed by the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam, a movement in which he showed faithful service, and by his association with the Catholic Action movement. Following the accord between Hitler and Mussolini in 1939, he chose to stay in Italy, unable to associate with Hitler’s project which he deemed incompatible with the Gospel. He was conscripted into the SS in 1944 when South Tyrol came under Nazi control. Unable in conscience to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler, he was arrested, imprisoned and eventually sentenced to death for undermining military morale. He was transported to Dachau where he was to be shot, but with failing health and weakness, he died on 24 February in the cattle wagon transporting him to Dachau.
Almost fifty years earlier, these words were written on the walls of Richmond Castle, Yorkshire, England (used as a prison), by a conscientious objector of the First World War: “Then said Jesus to his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” The ‘crucifixion’ was a punishment given to some of these COs in the field in France. They were placed against posts with arms outstretched and wrists tied to cross beams. Here they would stay, in all forms of weather, for hours at a time. [Excerpted from The Way of the Cross: Reflections Drawn from the First World War Conscientious Objectors, a Pax Christi UK publication.]
Timothy’s letter today speaks of ‘sharing the hardship of the Gospel’. We can only hope, looking back at these brave people, that in their harsh sharing, in their witness to peace and Gospel nonviolence, they also experienced the strength that comes from God.
Pat Gaffney is General Secretary of the British section of Pax Christi.