Tribute Paid to Those Who Followed Conscience
ROME, JUNE 18, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Several cardinals of the Roman Curia concelebrated a Mass on Thursday for the eternal repose of two anti-Nazi diplomats who worked to rescue Jews during World War II.
The souls of Luis Martins de Sousa Dantas and Aristides de Sousa Mendes were prayed for in a Mass presided over by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, near the Vatican.
Among those concelebrating were Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, L’Osservatore Romano reported today.
Cardinal Renato Martino, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, gave the homily. He recalled the lives of Brazilian Luis Martins de Sousa Dantas and Portuguese Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who rescued thousands of Jews.
”Both Dantas as well as Mendes belong to that group of persons of upright conscience — whether or not diplomats — who in the whole of Europe risked their lives to save the lives of so many persons threatened by the racist horror of Nazi-Fascism,” L’Osservatore Romano noted.
Among those persons, it mentioned Swedish Raoul Wallenberg, Swiss Carl Lutz, Italian Giorgio Perlasca (who continued the work of the Spanish ambassador Ángel Sanz Briz) and German Oskar Schindler.
In his homily, Cardinal Martino recalled that the action of both Dantas and Mendes was motivated by a profound Christian faith.
He noted that their action acquired even greater relevance given that it was carried out in conscience and in direct disobedience to the dispositions of their respective governments that were — as were those of most of the world — well-disposed in those years to fight against the Jews.
Mendes, who was employed in the Portuguese consulate in Bordeaux, France, while it was occupied by the Nazis, defied the explicit order of António de Oliveira de Salazar’s Portuguese government to avoid ”in any circumstance granting visas to Jews or other undesirables.”
Mendes organized a system of visas that concealed Jewish identity and succeeded in rescuing more than 30,000 persons who otherwise would have been sent to concentration camps and certain death.
Later, Mendes saw his 14 children forced to emigrate and be dispersed in different places of the world.
He died in absolute poverty, in a shelter for the poor managed by the Franciscans in Lisbon, Portugal, on April 3, 1954. According to his wishes, his body was clothed in the Franciscan habit for burial.
Ambassador Dantas also heard the voice of conscience and disregarded the dispositions of his government — less explicit than the Portuguese, but no less binding — to favor the escape of thousands of persons threatened with death.
His insubordination cost him his career. In his defense, he restricted himself to saying that he acted ”moved by the most elementary sentiments of Christian piety.”
In memory of Mendes and Dantas, a committee has been created to promote a Day of Conscience, to thank God for all those who had the courage to listen to the voice of conscience during those difficult years.