US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Honoring five overlooked 'martyrs of solidarity'

Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Amidst the news surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Germany this weekend, somewhat overlooked in the headlines has been the beatification of five Daughters of Divine Charity in Sarajevo.

The nuns, though not well known, have an extraordinary story. Sisters Jula Ivanisevic, Berchmana Leidenix, Krizina Bojanc, Antonija Fabjan, and Bernadeta Banja--collectively known as the Martyrs of Drina--were killed by Serbian Chetniks during World War II. The sisters were taken hostage by the Serbs and asked to renounce their religious vows, and when they refused the soldiers beat and attempted to rape them. The nuns jumped from a second story window to escape, and after suffering injuries from the fall they were stabbed to death by the soldiers.

Pope Benedict confirmed their beatification in January but was unable to attend due to his visit to Germany. The ceremony was led by Cardinal Angelo Amato and attended by an estimated 20,000 people coming together in a celebration of unity for the lives and sacrifices of the sisters.

But the story was so far off the Catholic news radar, which was primarily consumed with the papal trip, that I must admit I wasn't even aware that the beatification was happening this weekend. It wasn't until receiving an email from Father Joe Kerrigan, a friend who attended the event in person, that I came to understand and appreciate the magnitude of what took place.

Father Joe dropped me a line from Sarajevo on Saturday to let me know what an inspiring event it was, and he followed up with more of his impressions in a second message after returning to the U.S.

"To me," he writes, "what was notable was that here's a Sarajevo formerly famous for people of different cultures getting along, so much so that it became the host city for the 1984 Olympics. Then it goes to the exact opposite extreme with the horrendous 1992-95 war, then the country gets their act together enough to having a beatification ceremony in the same Olympic hall that many of the 1984 events took place in, without protest, mishap, etc.

"The Olympic banners and scoreboards from that era were really still the only signage in the hall. Add to that that the five beatified martyrs represented Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary, and we kind of have not just old-fashioned martyrs, but martyrs of global solidarity."

That story might not have a lot of action, or conflict, or figures as well known as the pope, but it is the kind of story that certainly deserves our attention.