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Daughter of Israel in Europe
John Paul II: she embodies ´´the deepest tragedies and the deepest hopes´´
“Today’s proclamation of Edith Stein as a Co-Patroness of Europe is intended to raise on this Continent a banner of respect, tolerance and acceptance which invites all men and women to understand and appreciate each other, transcending their ethnic, cultural and religious differences in order to form a truly fraternal society”. With these words, on October 1st 1999 John Paul II proclaimed Saint Benedicta of the Cross, born Edith Stein, co-patroness of Europe. Daugther of the Jewish and Christian people, Carmelite sister, died in the Auscwitz concentration camp, Edith Stein is, in the Pope’s words, “the symbol of a human, cultural and religious pilgrimage which embodies the deepest tragedy and the deepest hopes of Europe”.
Daughter of Israel, Catholic. Edith Stein was born - the last of 11 siblings - to a Jewish family in city of Breslau, which was then in German territory. Edith lost her father before turning two. After her diploma she began her advanced education in German studies and history and the University of Breslau, cultivating a special interest in philosophy. Her years in college coincide with the outbreak of World War I, when she served as nurse in an Austrian military hospital. She exposed to Christianity after that experience, coupled by significant encounters and the reading of great mystics like Saint Theresa of Avila. On January 1st 1922 Edith was baptised. “I had stopped practising my Jewish faith - she wrote - I started to feel Jewish again only after having returned to God”. Her spiritual experience didn’t prevent her from continuing her philosophic studies, undertaking trips and conferences, especially on issues regarding women, the heritage of a “feminist radicalism”, as she herself had described it in her student years. In 1932, having been refused teaching qualification as a woman, she became lecturer in Scientific Pedagogy at the Catholic Institution of Münster, but anti-Semitic legislation forced her to leave the post the following year. On October 14 1933 she entered the Carmelite monastery in Cologne, taking on the name of Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. As the measures against the Jews grew increasingly harsher, with the help of the prior mother of the monastery, in 1938 Sister Theresa Benedicta was transferred to the Carmelite monastery at Echt, in the Netherlands, where she was joined by her sister Rose on August 2 1942. She was captured and brought to Auschwitz. She died in the gas chambers on August 9.
For an ethics of unity. Along with Saint Brigida from Sweden and Saint Catherine from Siena, with Saint Benedict and with Cyril and Methodius, Saint Benedicta of the Cross was called by John Paul II to represent the Christian roots of the European Continent. It is a “sanctity with a Jewish face” which in the icon of Mary recognizes the martyrs’ courage as well as “the daily dedication of countless wives and mothers in that “domestic Church” which is the family”. A sanctity that for Europe is “the secret of a past and the hope of a future”. “In order to build the new Europe on solid foundations - writes John Paul II - it is certainly not enough to appeal to economic interests alone; for these, while sometimes bringing people together, are at other times a cause of division. Rather there is a need to act on the basis of authentic values, which are founded on the universal moral law written on the heart of every person. A Europe which would exchange the values of tolerance and universal respect for ethical indifference and skepticism about essential values would be opening itself to immense risks and sooner or later would see the most fearful spectres of its past reappear in new forms”. Edith Stein, who in Christianity found the fullness of her belonging to the faith of Abraham, becoming the expression of an “existential pilgrimage” of contemporary man, brought into her life “the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God” (John Paul II on the day of the beatification of Edith Stein, May 1st 1987). With the role model of the three saints, three great women, and of Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross “Europeans are called to leave behind once and for all the rivalries of history which often turned the Continent into a theatre of devastating wars. At the same time they must work to create conditions for greater unity and cooperation between peoples. Before them lies the daunting challenge of building a culture and an ethic of unity, for in the absence of these any politics of unity is doomed sooner or later to failure”.