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From the Vatican Information Service. . .

EDITH STEIN, THE FIRST JEWISH SAINT OF OUR TIMES

VATICAN CITY, OCT 8, 1998 (VIS) - In St. Peter's Square on Sunday October

11, John Paul II will canonize Discalced Carmelite Edith Stein, whom he

proclaimed blessed in Cologne, Germany, on May 1, 1987.

Edith Stein was born in Breslau, formerly in Germany and now in Poland,

on October 12, 1891 and was the eleventh child and youngest daughter of a

Jewish couple. Her father died when she was only eighteen months old and

four of her brothers died in their youth.

Although a good pupil, she underwent a crisis period at the age of 14 and

refused to continue her studies. Her mother sent her to Hamburg to be with

her married sister Elsa, to help with domestic chores. Edith then began to

profess herself as an atheist. A year later she wished to return home and

take up her studies again. In 1911, she enrolled in the faculty of

Philosophy at the University of Breslau. Strongly influenced by a reading

of Edmund Husserl's "Logical Investigations," she decided in 1913 to leave

her native city and enroll in phenomenology in Gottingen. During her time

in this city, she came to know the philosopher Max Scheler, and thanks to

him, had her first contact with Catholic thinking.

With the outbreak of the First World War, almost all her friends were

called to the battle front and Edith felt it a duty for her too to

discontinue her studies. In 1915, she began to work as a nurse for the Red

Cross, and was sent to the hospital for those with infectious diseases in

Mahrisch-Weisskirchen, when she saw first hand the reality of death.

One summer evening in 1921, during a stay at a friend's house, she began

to read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. This enthralled her so

much that she read all night. At sunrise the following day, closing the

book, she exclaimed: "This is the truth!" She had found her true vocation.

"The way of faith" she wrote in one of her works, "brings us further than

philosophical knowledge. It leads us to God who as a person is close to us,

to Him who is full of love and mercy, to a certainty which no earthly

knowledge could give."

She was baptized on January 1, 1922, and chose the name of Teresa-Hedwig.

She participated in Mass and received communion for the first time. From

here on in, she would receive communion on a daily basis. Likewise, she

began to pray the Liturgy of the Hours from the breviary. In spite of her

desire to enter the order of Discalced Carmelites, her spiritual directors

advised her to have a profession. Edith abandoned her university studies

and began to teach in a Dominican school in Speir. During these years she

spoke publicly in Germany and in other countries on the vocation of women

and their inclusion in modern society.

Because she was a woman, Stein was not allowed to have a teaching post in

the universities of Gottingen, Fribourg, Kiel or Breslau: she lived this

failure as a hard blow and a great sacrifice. In 1932 she accepted an offer

to teach in the German Institute of Scientific Pedagogy in Munster. A year

later, Edith lost her job because of measures taken against the Jewish

population. It was at that time that her desire to enter the Carmel

monastery in Cologne-Lindenthal in 1933 became a reality. On April 15,

1934, dressed in her Carmelite habit, she received the name of Sister

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Teresa was chosen in honor of the reformer

of the Carmelite order, and Benedicta because of her friendship with the

Benedictines of Beuron. She made her solemn profession on April 21, 1938.

Notwithstanding the silence and the cloister of the Carmel monastery,

Stein followed with indignation the abuses of Nazism, which she interpreted

as an expression of the Nazis' hatred for Christ. Thus, she recounted in

some of her writings: "I had already heard about harsh measures against the

Jews. However a particularly bright light lit up my mind: only in that

moment had I the intuition that God was laying his hand on his people, and

that the fate of this people was also mine."

In her letters, Edith expressed her great concern for the future of her

people. Already she intimately lived what is known as the "knowledge of the

Cross": "If we are united to the Lord, we are members of the mystical body

of Christ, who continues to live and suffer in its members; pain, lived in

union with the Lord, is his, implanted in the great work of redemption."

At the end of 1938, Stein accepted refuge in the Carmel monastery of

Echt, the Netherlands, so as to guarantee the safety of the monastery of

Cologne, which was in danger because of her presence there. Her sister

Rosa, who had been baptized in 1938, followed in her steps a year later and

became the portress at the monastery of Echt.

Given the precariousness of the political situation, the superiors of the

convent did not dare admit publicly that Edith and Rosa Stein were in the

community of Echt, which caused Edith great pain. As the situation

worsened, the Dutch bishops wrote a pastoral letter in 1942 in which they

condemned the persecution of the Jews.

Edith Stein began the procedure for admittance with her sister to the

monastery of Paquier, Switzerland, but due to the slowness of the

bureaucracy, this desire was never fulfilled.

On June 9, 1939, fearing the worst, she wrote in her testament: "From now

on, I joyfully accept the death which God has prepared for me, in perfect

submission to his will. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death for

his praise and glory, for all the intentions ... of the Holy Church,

particularly for the protection, sanctification and perfection of our holy

order, above all, in the monasteries of Cologne and Echt."

On August 2, 1942 two SS officers arrived at the Carmel monastery of Echt

and ordered Edith and Rosa to leave. As they did, a person heard Stein say

to her sister: "Come, we're going for our people." That day 242 Jewish

converts to Catholicism were deported as a reprisal for the message from

the Dutch bishops.

Edith was led to the concentration camp at Westerbok, in the north of the

Netherlands. There she stood out for her assistance to others, helping all

those who came to her, especially women and children. On August 7, she was

forced to board a train which brought her to the Auschwitz-Birkenau

concentration camp in Poland. After a two-day journey, Edith Stein and her

sister Rosa arrived in Auschwitz. They were immediately led to the gas

chambers with the other prisoners, where they died.

In 1962, the process of beatification was opened for Edith Stein and ten

years later, on September 19, 1972 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the

Faith gave the "nihil obstat" for the cause of beatification. On March 8,

1986 the relator for the cause signed the presentation of the "Positio

Super Martyrio et Super Virtutibus," which went to the Congregation for the

Causes of Saints for investigation. Finally, on January 26, 1987 John Paul

II, with a decree from the latter, declared recognition for the martyrdom

and the heroic virtue of the Servant of God. Thus on May 1, 1987 John Paul

II, during a pastoral visit to Cologne, Germany, beatified the Discalced

Carmelite.

In order to be canonized, proof of a miracle after beatification is

required. In the case of Blessed Stein, the miracle presented for the

postulation was the scientifically inexplicable, extraordinary cure of a

three year-old child, Benedicta McCarthy, living in Boston, U.S.A. In 1987,

the little girl was rushed to hospital, having been badly poisoned by a

heavy dose of medicine which she had taken. The doctors diagnosed liver

failure, and decided to give her a liver transplant. However, thanks to the

prayers of the family and many American and Canadian devotees who invoked

the intercession of the Venerable Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith

Stein), the child recovered quickly without recourse to the operation.

On April 8, 1997 the decree concerning the miracle was proclaimed, and in

the ordinary public Consistory on May 22 of that year, John Paul II

publicly expressed his intention to canonize Blessed Teresa Benedicta of

the Cross, discalced martyr and martyr.

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