The “secret preacher of block 17” who witnessed to Christ in a Nazi concentration camp was beatified last week in Limburg, Germany. Source: CNA.
Blessed Fr Richard Henkes was a German Pallottine priest denounced by the Nazis for his outspoken preaching. He died in Dachau concentration camp in 1945 while caring for prisoners sick with typhus.
“The real reformers of the Church are the blessed and the saints,” said Cardinal Kurt Koch at Blessed Henkes’ beatification on Saturday. “For we can only achieve the utmost externally, in structural terms, when we are also prepared to strive to achieve our utmost internally, in faith.”
“Love is not without sacrifice,” Cardinal Koch said. “The Christian martyrdom is only real if it is realised as the supreme act of love for God and for one’s brothers and sisters.”
From the pulpit and the classroom, Blessed Henkes spoke out against the Nazi ideology and condemned the regime’s crimes against human dignity, focusing one homily on their killing of the disabled. Blessed Henkes was first denounced in 1937 for one of his homilies, for which he had to stand trial.
In the following years of World War II, Blessed Henkes was interrogated and threatened by the Gestapo again and again as he continued to work as a youth chaplain and retreat master.
“In the face of this neo-pagan ideology, Blessed Henkes surmised that wherever God is reduced to insignificance and pushed out of the public eye, man is also reduced to insignificance,” Cardinal Koch said.
Blessed Henkes was finally arrested by the Gestapo in May 1943 because of the content of one of his homilies in Branitz. He was then imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp, where he lived in the priests’ barracks, did compulsory labour, and secretly studied Czech with the future archbishop of Prague, Servant of God Cardinal Josef Beran.
He secretly preached in block 17 of Dachau, where there were many Czech people.
In late 1944, a typhus epidemic overtook block 17. Blessed Henkes volunteered to be locked up with the sick prisoners, so that he could continue to minister to them and care for the dying.
After eight weeks in the quarantined barracks, Blessed Henkes became infected with typhus. He died within a week, on February 22, 1945.