Saturday Pope Francis moved two 20th-century martyrs a step closer to sainthood, including Veronica Antal, a young Romanian woman killed during an attempted rape in 1958, and Pierre Claverie, a bishop who promoted dialogue between Muslims and Christians in Algeria.
The Pope’s recognition of Antal and Claverie as martyrs, “killed in hatred of the faith,” was announced Jan. 27, one day after he met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Six other sainthood causes were also advanced.
Veronica Antal was born in Nisiporesti, a small village in Romania, on Dec. 7, 1935. Because her parents spent a lot of time at work in the fields, she was raised mostly by her grandmother Zarafina, who taught her about the faith and inspired her love of Christ and the Church.
She attended primary school in her native village, earning good grades, and afterward joined her parents to work in the field.
By around the age of 16 or 17, she expressed a desire to enter the monastery, though she was unable to do so because the communist government had already abolished almost all Catholic monasteries in the country.
Instead she joined the Secular Franciscans as a tertiary and led a religious life at home, receiving Holy Communion and spending time in adoration daily, though she had to walk five miles to the nearest church.
On Aug. 24, 1958, just a few months shy of her 23rd birthday, she was returning from the Divine Liturgy at the local parish where she had just received the sacrament of Confirmation, when she was attacked by a young man, who attempted in vain to rape her.
She died after being stabbed 42 times with a knife. Antal had a special devotion to the Virgin Mary and prayed the Rosary every day. Those who found her body noted that she had a rosary gripped firmly in her hands.
It is said that at the time Antal had been reading a biography of a fellow virgin-martyr, St. Maria Goretti, who had been canonized just eight years prior, and had confided to two friends that she would behave the same way.
Pierre Claverie was a French citizen born in a working-class part of Algiers, Algeria on May 8, 1938. At age 10 he joined a group of scouts under the guidance of the Dominicans. But after completing his studies, he moved to Grenoble, France to continue his college education.
He joined the Dominicans in 1958, continuing his studies at a Dominican institute near Paris.
After the end of the Algerian War of Independence ended in 1962, he returned to Algiers to finish his mandated time in the armed forces, though he refused to bear arms. In September 1963 he returned to France and he was ordained to the priesthood in 1965.
He decided to return to Algeria two years later in order to help rebuild the new and independent nation following the war. He learned Arabic and became a well-known expert on Islam.
From 1973-1981 in Algiers he ran an institute for the studies of classical Arabic and Islam. It was originally intended to educate religious men and women serving as missionaries in Algeria, but in the end was attended by many Muslims desiring to know their culture and to learn Arabic, since French had been the language of colonization.
Claverie facilitated inter-religious dialogue between Muslims and Christians, a dream of his being to someday establish true dialogue between people of different faiths.
In 1981 he was appointed the bishop of Oran. There he created libraries, rehabilitation centers for the handicapped, and educational centers for women.
The Algerian Civil War broke out in 1992, threatening the small Catholic Church in the country. Some Church leaders in Europe encouraged priests and bishops to leave the country for safety, but Claverie was opposed to it, considering himself an Algerian, though he was never able to get citizenship.
Finding it important to participate in public life, he even publicly criticized the two main opposing forces in the civil war, the Islamic Salvation Front and the Algerian government.
He was assassinated on Aug. 1, 1996 along with his driver and friend Mohamed Bouchikhi, from a bomb explosion that destroyed the entrance to the chancery as they were entering the building. At his funeral, Muslim mourners described him as “the bishop of the Muslims.”
His cause for canonization, along with 18 other religious men and women killed from 1994-1996 in Algeria, was opened in 2006. Now, Pope Francis’ recognition of their martyrdom has paved the way for their beatification.
A miracle attributed to the intercession of Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa (Nazaria Ignacia of St. Teresa of Jesus), the founder of the Congregation of Sisters the Misioneras Cruzadas de la Iglesia (1889-1943), was also approved Jan. 27, paving the way for her beatification.
The others declared ‘Venerable’ are: Clelia Merloni, founder of the Institute of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1861-1930); and Maria Crocefissa of Divine Love (Maria Gargani), founder of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart (1892-1973).
The heroic virtue of ‘Servants of God’ Ambrosio Grittani, diocesan priest and founder of the Oblates of St. Benedict Joseph Labre (1907-1951); and Anna-Maria Maddalena Delbrêl, laywoman (1904-1965), were also approved.
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