A special Mass in Portuguese will be held at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Saturday June 19 at 7:30 p.m. in thanksgiving for Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a devout Catholic who was named Consul General for Portugal in Bordeaux, France in 1940.
A wealthy lawyer from an old aristocratic family, de Sousa Mendes had represented Portugal in Brazil, Zanzibar and the Unites States. Hitler’s forces had marched into Paris and a flood of humanity fled in fear from the Nazi regime. Their destination was Bordeaux where a Portuguese visa could assure them passage through Spain into Portugal, which was nominally neutral; from there they could perhaps hope to obtain a passport or visa to America. The president of Portugal, however, ordered his embassies not to issue exit visas to Russians, Portuguese political exiles and Jewish people. Thousands of refugees reached Bordeaux and sought out the Portuguese Consul General. With great compassion, de Sousa Mendes decided to disobey the Portuguese president’s order and handwrote some 30,000 visas in order to save as many refugees as possible from the Nazis. 10,000 of those refugees were Jews. He was quoted saying: ”I have to save these people, as many as I can. If I am disobeying orders I’d rather be with God against men, rather than with men against God.”
He was recalled to Lisbon in disgrace and stripped of all this diplomatic status. His licensee to practice law was taken away, and he was forced to sell all his possessions to buy food for his family. He died penniless in a house for the poor in Lisbon in 1954.
Aristides Sousa Mendes been honored by the U.S. Congress and has been restored to a place of honor and respect by the President of Portugal, Mario Soares. This year marks the 50 year anniversary of his death. The Angelo Roncalli International Committee and the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has chosen this devout Catholic for a special recognition. San Francisco Archbishop William Levada has asked Father Agnel De Heredia, Pastor of All Souls Parish, to celebrate the Mass. Members of the faithful, especially those with roots in Portugal, the Islands of Azores, and Brazil, are invited to the liturgy.