London: Blessed Franz Jagerstatter 30th annual memorial service

  • Ellen Teague

The 30th annual memorial service was held on Friday evening in London to mark the anniversary of the execution of 36-year-old Blessed Franz Jagerstatter in Berlin on 9 August 1943, for his refusal to serve in Hitler's army. Around 50 people gathered in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral, for the ecumenical prayers.

An audio recording of Robert Ellsberg, a publisher of Jagerstatter letters, was played, where he spoke about what the martyrdom of Franz Jagerstatter has meant to him. There was then a calling out of names of other conscientious objectors. Candles were lit as a sign of hope amidst the darkness of war and violence.

Jagerstatter was the only person in his village of St Radegund who voted against the Nazi take-over of Austria in 1938. He was very happily married to Franziska, and by 1943 they had three little girls, but the couple took their faith very seriously and Jagerstatter took the lonely path of resistance. By 1943, he had decided it was impossible as a Catholic to obey a dictator who was, in his words, 'gobbling up' other countries and killing so many people.

Hitler's war was one which, in good conscience, he could not support. Reaching this decision took many months of prayerful thought. He consulted parish clergy and the local bishop - all of whom advised him to compromise and fight like everyone else. Franziska alone supported Franz to the end. He was finally beheaded in Brandenburg prison on 9 August 1943. In 2007, he was beatified as a Christian martyr.

The annual peace prayer service also remembered the victims of the atomic bomb which was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki on 9 August1945, killing at least 74,000 people.

There were also prayers for a peaceful solution to the present standoff between India and Pakistan - two nuclear states - over Kashmir. Bruce Kent, vice president of CND and of Pax Christi thanked God for Pope Francis and his condemnation of the possession of nuclear weapons.

Prayers were led by Theresa Allesandro, the new Director of Pax Christi UK: "We pray for a deep change of heart for those who cling to the myth that nuclear weapons protect us, including our own Government. We pray that this change of heart will lead to the UK signing the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty."

The service was followed by the peace walk to the London Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park.

An interfaith service, led by the Rev Gyoro Nagase from the Nipponzan Myhoji Buddhist Order, was held at the pagoda. There were Christian and Buddhist prayers and ceremonies.

Pax Christi held all day peace vigils outside Westminster Cathedral on 6 and 9 August to mark the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

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The story of Franz Jagerstatter by Robert Ellsberg -

Tags: Pax Christi, Franz Jagerstatter, Franz Jägerstätter, Theresa Allesandro, Peace

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