Know your Martyrs
By Sr. Elvira Garro, SHM
Karl Leisner was born in Rees, Germany on February 28, 1915 and educated in Kleve. From the time of his youth he kept his love for Christ ardently aflame with prayer, the reading of the Word of God, and daily Mass. “Christ, You are my passion,” was written in his diary. As a high school student he joined the Schoenstatt Movement and became an apostle of deep Marian devotion, the same devotion which inspired Fr. Kentenich and the Schoenstatt Movement.
In January 1933, national-socialism had come to power in Germany. On July 2, the authorities closed the premises of the Catholic organizations and confiscated their goods. Karl wrote, “In school, the confrontations are getting tougher... We are whipped as Catholic activists, enemies of the State... This makes us prouder. In spite of some somber moments that provoke fear, we keep the Catholic banner of the youth movement very high.” Faced with these events, he did not let fear or hatred take root in his heart: “Let us burn with love for Christ and for any human being, and even more so for every brother and sister of our German people. We throw hatred into the fire ... Let flames of love rise,, powerful people united in a Christian way by love and mutual respect.”.
After a spiritual retreat, he felt called to teach men the way of God through the priestly service. At the beginning of his Theological studies he wrote: “Christ, You have called me. Humbled and determined I say, ‘Here I am, send me.”
The Bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf Von Galen, appointed him diocesan leader for the Catholic youth of the diocese on September 17, 1934. Karl carried out the order that had been given to him with responsibility and generous dedication. He was a great apostle of the young people and tirelessly traveled throughout the diocese to contact, organize, and direct them, in spite of the difficult political situation that Germany was going through.. He was a great apostle of the young people and tirelessly traveled throughout the diocese to contact, organize, and direct them, in spite of the difficult political situation that Germany was going through.
On March 25, 1939,he was ordained a deacon and in May, he was admitted to the sanatorium of St. Blaise in the Black Forest, afflicted with advanced tuberculosis.. On May 9 of the same year, the Gestapo arrested him in the hospital, having been betrayed by a colleague for a comment made about the failed attack against Hitler. Confined in the prison of Friburgo, he abandoned himself into the hands of God and with the Mother Thrice Admirable - the Marian invocation of Schoenstatt - he pronounced his own Fiat, offering himself “as a total sacrifice, a holocaust for youth, for Germany and for the Kingdom of God.”
In March 1940 he was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later to Dachau. . “In an inhuman world, he acknowledged Christ who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John Paul II, Homily at his Beatification). There also, forgetting about himself, he sought to encourage and confort his companions in misfortune and became known as “the comforting angel.”. The young man’s health worsened due to the living conditions of the camp, and on several occasions he was transferred to the infirmary, which resembled the anteroom of death. Considered a “useless mouth,”, his name appeared on the list of those who were to be taken to the gas chamber. However, God had other plans for his chosen one and Karl’s name was deleted from the list. Before granting him the crown of martyrdom, the Lord wanted to consecrate him as an Alter Christus.. What Karl so longed for, and which seemed impossible, became a reality. On December 17, 1944, on Gaudete Sunday, Karl, seriously ill, clandestinely received ordination by the French bishop Gabriel Piguet, who was also a prisoner.Karl’s joy was overflowing but his weakness so great that he could not celebrate his first and only Mass until December 26, feast of St. Stephen.
A few days before he died he confided to his mother: “Mom, I’m going to tell you a secret, but I don’t want you to be sad. I know I’m going to die soon, but I’m happy.”
Surrendered to the love of God and having received the sacraments, he died on August 12. The last words he left written in his diary were: “Bless my enemies, too, O Lord!”.
His mortal remains rest in the crypt of the Cathedral of Xanten.
John Paul II beatified him on June 23, 1996.
“It is not the world’s applause but the faithful confession of Jesus Christ that is the sign of an authentic disciple of Christ. The Lord does not demand of His disciples any kind of confession, but a confession of faith that is prepared to make sacrifices as well.. Karl Leisner made this profession, not only with his words, but also with his life and death: in an inhuman world”»(Saint John Paul II, Homily at his Beatification).
© HM Magazine Nº207 March-April 2019