BLESSED CHARLES VON HAPSBURG
May our two splendid parishes, Holy Innocents in the Garment District and Saint Michael in Hell’s Kitchen (gradually becoming Heaven’s Kitchen), grow ever closer in strengthening their witness to the power of the Resurrection. In these days of the Octave of All Saints, do bear in mind that countless saints, mostly unknown, have walked through these troubled and challenging streets. Last Monday His Excellency, Dom Teodoro de Faria, Bishop Emeritus of Funchal, on Portugal’s Island of Madeira, celebrated Holy Mass at the altar of the Church of the Holy Innocents. It was in his diocese that Blessed Karl [Charles] von Habsburg, the last emperor of Austria-Hungary, died. With today’s medicine, Blessed Karl [Charles] might well have survived the pneumonia that afflicted him, but instead he died at the age of 34 in penurious exile, a victim of the bigotry of many, including—sad to say—our own country’s Calvinist president, Woodrow Wilson. The novelist Anatole France said, “No one will ever persuade me that the war could not have been ended long ago. The Emperor [Karl] Charles offered peace. There is the only honest man who occupied an important position during the war, but he was not listened to.”
Blessed Charles von Hapsburg, beatified by Pope John Paul II whose father had served under Emperor Charles and who bore the Emperor’s name. Blessed Charles was shocked to inherit the imperial throne, as he was remote in the line of succession. It was the worst time in history, and by the end of the First World War more than half of his fellow countrymen had died in battle. In his brief two years of reign, Charles instituted many reforms of the army and the nation, even using imperial carriages to transport food and fuel to the poor, modeling himself after the social teachings of Pope Leo XIII.
His love was boundless for his wife, the Empress Zita, whom he told on the day after their glittering wedding, “Now we must help each other to get to Heaven.” His feast day is not on the anniversary of his death or birth, but on the anniversary of their wedding. In cruel exile after the war, he was not allowed firewood, and the family shivered in the cold on the island of Madeira. Before his death, Charles blessed his eighth child, still in the Empress’ womb, young enough legally to be “eliminated” in our present society. The young father was reluctant to let his eldest son Otto, who would be a principal figure in the collapse of European Communism, watch him die, but he did, saying that the son must see how a Christian king goes to God.
The Empress and her eight children removed to various lands, most recently living in Tuxedo Park, New York in our own archdiocese. In Quebec she and the children were so neglected that she had to comb the public park for dandelions to feed the royal family.
We rejoice in the heroism of these saints and pray that, whatever our state in life, we may serve the King of the Universe as they did.
– FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER