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From the Vatican Information Service. . .
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
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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