17 June 2008

Priestblock 25487

What courage and what faith! I just finished reading Priestblock 25487 by Fr. Jean Bernard. His account of what our priests endured in Dachau will stick with me for a very long time. As I celebrated Mass this morning in the beauty and comfort of the Sacred Heart Chapel, I thought about what he and others endured:

From now on we gather every morning after breakfast at a quiet end of the barrack street and pray together as inconspicuously as we can. If someone approaches too closely, we start speaking of trivial matters.

Then Father de Coninck proposes some points for consideration, which we try to discuss informally. As we talk we sit on our clogs in pairs, leaning up against one another's backs.

After that "Mass" begins. Each of us knows some of it by heart. The one we like to pray best is the Luxembourg Mass of the Virgin, "Ave spes nostra."

One morning Father de Coninck pulls out a cellophane bag labeled "vitamin C" from a fold in his shirt. In the good old days it was possible to buy such vitamins pills at the camp store.

Through the cellophane the shimmer of a piece of consecrated Host was visible, barely half an inch long. We all had difficulty hiding our excitement.

"Don't give us away," said de Coninck. "A German priest from barrack 26 has sent the Lord to us."

We decide to keep this most precious treasure among us for the time being and then to divide it among ourselves for the day when each of us is put on a transport.

Those were days of celebration. Now when we spoke the prayers of the Mass together, Father de Coninck held the Host inconspicuously in his hand. How much consolation that brought to the hearts of the tormented priests, how much courage and readiness to sacrifice, cannot be expressed in words."

Of course, Fr. Bernard writes of the horrible tortures he and other went through. The inhumanity almost defies description. But for me, the most moving parts of the book are when he speaks of the comfort of his faith, and those times when our Eucharistic Lord could be smuggled to them. The smallest crumb of the Host meant that God was with them in a unique way, and their thankfulness was boundless.

What men these priests were.