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Sara Salkahazi, Hungary's Martyr of Charity

Interview With Cardinal Peter Erdo

BUDAPEST, Hungary, SEPT. 23, 2006 (Zenit) - Hungary witnessed a first-of-its-kind event last Sunday with the beatification of Sara Salkahazi.

To reflect on the meaning of this celebration and to know more about the personality of the new blessed, we interviewed Cardinal Peter Erdo, primate of Hungary, before the beatification.

Q: Of what importance is this event?

Cardinal Erdo: First I wish to say that the last canonization that took place in Hungary was in 1083, at a time when there was still no technical distinction between beatification and canonization. Therefore, it is correct to say that it is the first beatification that is effected in Hungary.

Above all it is a great joy, not only for Catholic believers but for the whole society: a completely extraordinary event. And it is also very important that all this is happening in the year of Hungary's jubilees, in a year that the Hungarian episcopal conference has declared a year of prayer for the spiritual renewal of the Magyar nation. Above all it is the 50th anniversary of the 1956 revolution.

What does this beatification mean for us in the city of Budapest? It means that a woman of today, of the 20th century, let us say an ordinary woman, that is, not aristocratic or of the royal household, can live the Christian ideal and also be shown to all the people as an example of Christian life.

The blessed and saints are, on one hand, our patrons who intercede for us and, on the other, they are always examples of Christian life and this example must be current, palpable for people today.

Hungarians have relatively few canonized saints, also because our administrative strength, to carry out these processes, was somewhat lacking in our very agitated history.

Therefore, it is an extraordinary joy that John Paul II already beatified three Hungarians and now Benedict XVI has permitted the beatification of Sister Sara Salkahazi, who was a martyr and died in Budapest, in this city which has existed under this name only since 1873, because before, Buda and Pest were two different cities.

The patron saint of our city is St. Gerard Sagredo of Venice, who was an Italian bishop. After St. Stephen's death, [St. Gerard] was thrown into the Danube from the mountain that now bears his name. His statute raises the cross over the city of Budapest. His martyrdom was closely linked to the Danube's waters.

And now we celebrate the beatification of a saintly woman of the 20th century, who also suffered martyrdom and whose martyrdom is also related to the waters of the Danube.

She was shot on the Danube, with many people of Jewish origin, because she was a martyr of Christian charity. She gave her life for her neighbors. She hid many persecuted people in her convent, and when this fact was discovered at the end of 1944 she was arrested and then, together with the women she was hiding, was shot on the Danube.

Later, eyewitnesses of this event were found who stated how she died. She made the sign of the cross in the last moment of her life; therefore, fully conscious, she wished to give witness of the way that a true Christian must behave in such tragic situations.

Q: In the history of the Church, including during difficult periods, some charismatic personalities have appeared as compasses in the storm. What role did Sister Sara play in the tormented period in which she lived?

Cardinal Erdo: Above all, Sister Sara was a very modern woman. A journalist in the city of Kosice, which belonged to Hungary when it was born and later formed part of Czechoslovakia, she wrote for several newspapers and later she also wrote plays and her writings are full of human sensibility but also full of Christian thought.

Through her intellectual activity, she was open to a vocation and decided to dedicate her life to the service of her neighbor. That is why she entered the Society of the Social Sisters, which was a new congregation of that time and which was engaged above all in service to the poor and the sick.

In regard to the poor, Sister Sara discovered the extreme need of women in the society of that time; women who were obliged to work even though they had a family, who often lived in utter dependence and poverty.

She also organized several houses for women in situations of crisis. Thus, a Christian feminism characterized the thought of this religious and also the house in Budapest where she was a superior at the end of her life.

Initially it was a house for women workers and in this house they later hid many women of Jewish origin. This was not an isolated action of Sister Sara but also organized centrally by her whole congregation.

It was Margit Slachta, superior general of the congregation, who wrote that in each house of her Society, ...

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