Odoardo Focherini: Man, Hero, Blessed

The first Italian "Righteous Gentile" to be beatified

21.06.2013 // PRINT
© DR
Saturday 15 June was an unforgettable day for the little town of Carpi, Italy, as one of their very own is beatified. Odoardo Focherini; the Italian Schindler. A devoted husband, father, catholic, and friend to the persecuted Jews during the brutal Nazi regime of WWII. 
 
The sunlit “Piazza of the Martyrs” could not have been a more fitting place to hold the celebration, as more than 5000 people squeezed into the little square outside the town’s cathedral, half destroyed by an earthquake a year previously. They had travelled from near and far to celebrate the extraordinary life and martyrdom of a true hero and devoted servant of God. 
 
Among the attendees were Odoardo’s own family, as well as the families of the Jews he saved and fellow inmates from the Nazi prison camps.
 
The beatification was celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in representation of Pope Francis. Monsignor Francesco Cavina con-celebrated the event, and he talks to Aleteia about his experience:
 
“For me, Focherini’s beatification was a motive of joy and interior peace because I touched with my own two hands real evidence that the Lord never abandons his children, and that he puts signs of consolation and hope on their path” remarked the Monsignor. “It also filled me with wonder to see the attention and interest that the figure of the blessed has aroused in the public opinion:”
 
A life devoted to God
 
Odoardo Focherini was born in Carpi, Italy, on the 6th of June, 1907. He lost his mother when he was 2 years old; his father remarried and his adoptive mother loved him as her own son, directing his attentions towards life in the parish where Odoardo was formed in his faith.
 
He was of a sociable and friendly character and had many interests - the theatre, journalism, songs from the mountains, playing the harmonica, bike riding and skiing - and he had a special love of the youth who he constantly engaged in parish life, offering them spiritual formation.
 
In 1930 he married Maria Marchesi, and between 1931 and 1943 they had 7 children. 
 
He also became president of the movement Azione Cattolica (Catholic Action), as well as promoter of the Catholic scouts, of the St Vincent Confraternity (that cared for the poor) and of Unitalsi (that worked with the sick). He also worked for the Catholic Insurance Society and wrote for the Osservatore Romano. 
 
As the Second World War swept throughout Europe, and the Nazi’s brutality devoured the innocent, instilling fear wherever they trod, Odoardo refused to surrender to their tyranny. He saved over 100 Jews, securing them with false identity cards, helping them to escape into Switzerland, and even hiring them to work for him. 
 
His love for God and fellow man conquered all fear.
 
Dying in faith
 
In March 1944 he was arrested by the Nazi’s and condemned without any due procedure or trial, and sent to the prison camps, where he died on the 27th of december 1944, faithful and joyful to the end. 
 
Odoardo’s body was never found, since in all likelihood he ended up in the furnaces of Hersbruck. The official relic is his wedding ring, which he managed to keep from the clutches of the Nazi’s, miraculously smuggling it out of prison and back to his wife. 
 
Family
 
The family of our Italian hero were also present at the beatification, to see their own flesh and blood step into sainthood. Along with all of Odoardo’s children there were 15 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren at the celebration. One of his grandchildren, Francesco Manicardi, tells Aleteia about the life and character of this incredible man.
 
“Odoardo’s interior life consisted in a constant dedication to others” remarked Manicardi, “he revealed to the other, by way of charity, the beauty and joy of following Christ. Obviously, the teachings of Jesus often saw some ferocious opposition, but this didn’t phase Odoardo at all. When the ‘other’ that he always helped came in the form of Jewish families trying to escape deportation, the ‘samaritan’ Odoardo didn’t hesitate to open his heart to them, even in the face of immense risks.”
 
Manicardi also remembered the loving devotion of his wife Maria, who was an incredible support to her husband.  He echoes the voice of this dedicated life companion who encouraged her husband to attend to their suffering brothers and sisters: “we and our children are safe, the Jews are not: go and help them.” 
 
He continues: “together with a priest, don Dante Sala, the future Blessed created a clandestine network of organised aid to hide the Jewish runaways, to secure them false identity cards - that Focherini himself filled out with false data - and he guided them until they reached Switzerland.” 
 
The Jewish people that knew him in that period, “whether man, woman or child - remembered him as always smiling, serene, faithful in Providence and convicted in the work of the Good” recounts his grandson. 
 
Focherini did not submit to the orders of the Fascist Regime and to the impositions of the Nazi occupants. “He actually took on Jewish journalists” says Manicardi, “as well as anti-Fascists, among which was the future famous journalist Enzo Biagi.” 
 
“Odoardo died at only 37 years of age” he continues, “confirming his fidelity to his wife and offering his life in the holocaust for the Church and for the return of peace to the world.”
 
“Righteous Gentile”
 
Manicardi, as one of the family, describes his experience of the beatification: “for the children of Odoardo it was a moment of great emotion, a moment long awaited and one that also gave credit to Odoardo’s wife, Maria Marchesi, a woman comparable to her husband in faith and generosity.”
 
However he explained that this day was one that united all of the people touched by Odoardo in some way. “There were not only immediate family...but representatives from all the spheres of life that Odoardo had come across and breathed life into” he says, “they were all grateful, like us, for the gift of Odoardo, as were the representatives of the Italian Jewish Community that, through their president Gattegna, expressed ‘respect and deep feeling’ for the beatification of Focherini, who for Israel, was a ‘Righteous Gentile’.”
 
“To be able to live together the emotions of the day of the beatification, with the children and grandchildren of the hundred people that he saved, brought together by the vital sacrifice of Odoardo, it made me think of Jesus and of the profundity and beauty of his words when he affirms: “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12, 24)
 
An example for all
 
Manicardi continues: “he showed us, through his very existence, works and words - through his articles and above all the letters that he wrote to his wife and friends from prison - that the only way to live your life fully is in joyful service and attentiveness to others, without any distinction in creed or political bearing, and without fearing the consequences of your good actions.”
 
“Odoardo was not a “armchair christian” but a christian of the street, that walked with others, keeping step with the littlest and the last.”
 
Monsignor Cavina too, spoke to Aleteia about what a great role model Odoardo is for all of us. “Focherini was a clear example for everyone because he was a free man and his freedom was the fruit of his adhesion to the Truth. This truth, in the Christian vision, before being a fruit of intellectual research, is the Person of Christ. He put himself at the service of the Truth not in arrogance or presumption, but in humility, simplicity and charity, that derived from his being a true disciple of Christ.” 
 
He continues: “precisely for this reason he incarnated a profound human vision of Christianity in his life. In a dramatic moment in the history of Italy and Europe, dominated by the vicious and dehumanising ideologies, he defended the dignity of the person, the inviolability of the conscience and the rights of freedom of thought and religion.”
 
On a personal note, the Monsignor adds “Odoardo reminds me that I am a unique gift, I am unrepeatable and I can’t be monopolized. He is a witness to me that the Lord has entrusted me with a mission; that I do not exist for nothing; that I have good to carry out for the Glory of God and the progress of Humanity.” 
 
Inspiration 
 
Finally, Odoardo’s grandson calls on us to be inspired by the Blessed’s words written from the torment of the prison camp to his beloved wife Maria: “so you say that the Lord wants or even permits such prolongation or aggravation? Fiat voluntas Dei my dearest Mary; and with an immovable certainty that we must give everything in generosity, we can accept the cross, even if it becomes heavier, with the serenest of souls, and carry on.”

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A Kerala Model for New Evangelisation It‰Ûªs just awesome! 560,829 are the participants this year for Logos Mega Bible Quiz to be conducted on 30th September 2012 in Kerala the great and ancient centre of Christianity in India. The interest in the Quiz has gone up steadily since it was initiated in 2000 the Great Jubilee Year by the Bishops‰Ûª conference. This year saw an increase of 25,000 compared to last year‰Ûªs registration (537,300). This colossal phenomenon, called ‰Û÷Logos Mega Bible Quiz‰Ûª, invites the keen attention of the universal Church at the dawn of the Synod on New Evangelization. The Aim The Logos Bible Quiz, which is organized by Kerala Catholic Bishops‰Ûª Council‰Ûªs Bible Commission, provides people opportunity to read and study the Holy Bible carefully. ‰ÛÏOur aim is to promote interest in Bible reading and to cultivate a culture of systematic study of the Bible in order to make a vibrant Christian life possible‰Û, says Rev. Dr. Joshy Mayyattil the chief co-ordinator of Logos Mega Quiz and Secretary of KCBC Bible Commission and Kerala Catholic Bible Society. The Mode The participants, in the quiz conducted by Bible Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, are divided into six age groups. People of all walks of life can participate in this popular Bible quiz. Many religious and priests too participate in it. The preliminary round of the Logos Quiz, conducted in parishes under the auspice of Diocesan Bible Apostolate directors, lasts for one and half hours in which the participants will answer multiple answer questions. Three toppers from each age category will participate in the written quiz conducted in KCBC headquarters at Kochi. Top ten from each age category from this round will be eligible for the final round which includes audio, video, written, oral and Bible verse recitation tests. Once the final round gets over, the winners in each category is awarded with gold medals and cash prizes. And the champion of the Logos Quiz (Logos Prathibha) will have a free pilgrimage to Holy Land. The possibility of introducing scholarship for Bible study for the Logos winners is under consideration. Last year the Logos Prathibha (i.e., Logos Champion) was Sr. Betty LAR from the diocese of Palai. Year before last it was Miss Reshma Pius a 16-year old student hailing from an economically poor family. This Bible lover has proved that her family‰Ûªs richness consists in their love for the Scripture. A Year-long Preparation for 35 chapters! People prepare themselves well in advance for the quiz. The syllabus of almost 35 chapters from the Old and New Testaments (the syllabus for this year: Exodus 25-40; the Gospel of Mark; II Peter) for the quiz is announced a year in advance so that the contestants can get ample time to prepare. Often people carry their personal Bibles during travels in order to read the portions. In many cases parents and children get ready for the Logos making collective study and preparing notes in the family. It is not a rare thing in Kerala to see members of the same family, especially children, competing among themselves to learn biblical verses by-heart. In some places, the participants of the Logos Quiz sit together after the Sunday Catechesis and revise the topics. Study guides are also available. Last year more than 20 various guides were available in the bookshops. In Future ‰ÛÏLogos Quiz has become a Herculean task for the conducting team. However it is also a pleasant task‰Û, says Bishop George Punnakkottil the Chairman of KCBC Bible Commission. ‰ÛÏLast year we introduced on-line registration (visit: www.logosquiz.org). In a few years we will be able to conduct on-line exam also. Thus the desire of numerous Keralites abroad to participate in the Logos Quiz would be realized‰Û. ‰ÛÏThe KCBC Bible Commission has plans to make this Bible Quiz popular in other parts of the world too. For this purpose, the Bible Quiz, which is currently conducted in Malayalam and English, will be made available in other languages also‰Û, added Bishop Punnakkottil. The e-mails that the organizers of the Logos Bible Quiz receive are evidences for the desire of the people around the globe for such methods and tools for Bible study. The great success of this Bible contest in Kerala could be a pointer for the universal Church ‰ÛÒ Bible Quiz, if culturally adapted, may be one of the best means for the new evangelization.

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