Yesterday the Jesuits worldwide received a beautiful letter from Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., the superior general of the Society of Jesus, on Blessed Jacques Berthieu, S.J., the Belgian missionary and martyr who will be canonized (along with Kateri Tekakwitha and Marianne Cope) this Sunday by Pope Benedict XVI. The Jesuit curia has graciously allowed us to publish Fr. Nicolás's moving tribute to Fr. Berthieu, whose story may not be as well known in this country as that of Kateri or Marianne, but is every bit as inspiring.
Fr. Jacques Berthieu, a French Jesuit (1838-1896), priest and missionary in Madagascar, was declared a blessed martyr of faith and chastity by Pope Paul VI in 1965 during the Second Vatican Council. He will be canonized in Rome on October 21st with six other Blessed. This day coincides with the World Mission Sunday and is part of the celebration of the Year of Faith and the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. Moreover, for the Society of Jesus, this year 2012 is also marked by the Congregation of Procurators which took place last July in Nairobi. The apostolic vitality of the provinces of Africa and Madagascar and our renewed awareness of sentire cum Ecclesia invite us to receive with fervor the witness of Jacques Berthieu. After recalling the stages of his life and his martyrdom according to the sources, I will highlight some aspects of his holiness that challenge us today.
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The total and irreversible gift of his life in the following of Christ was at the heart of his commitment. In the midst of trials, he retained his sense of humor, and remained affable, humble and helpful. He liked to quote the Gospel passage: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but rather of those who make one lose one’s soul.” (cf. Mt 10:28). In his instructions, he often spoke of the resurrection of the dead. The faithful remembered the following sentence: “Even if you are eaten by a crocodile, you will rise again.” Was this a premonition of his own end? In fact, after his death, two inhabitants of Ambiatibe dragged his body to the river Mananara, a short distance away from the place of his martyrdom, and his remains disappeared.
Read Father General's full letter here.