Fr. Richard Henkes SAC was beatified
His Anniversary Day shall be the 21st of February
Fr. Richard Henkes can now be appealed to as a blessed one and as a martyr. Cardinal Kurt Koch beatified the Pallottine priest born in the German town of Ruppach-Goldhausen on Sunday, September 15th, at Limburg’s “Hoher Dom“ in honour of his life testemony.
The Curial Cardinal from Rome read out the corresponding paper by Pope Francis in which he honoured Fr. Henkes as a “heroic attestor of Christian love“ as well as “a bold proclaimer of the gospel“. When Germany was subject to the Nazis’ reign of terror, Fr. Henkes willingly gave his life caring for the typhoid patients among his fellow prisoners at the concentration camp of Dachau. He had been imprisoned due to his criticism towards the regime. His anniversary has been set to be on February 21st.
Beatification at Limburg’s “Hoher Dom”
It was the first beatification to take place at the Dome of Limburg. Approximately 1,500 believers, among those several bishops from Germany and from abroad as well as many Pallottines, representatives from other societies and congregations and Politicians took place in this unusual premier together with Georg Bätzing, the diocesan bishop and P. Jacob Nampudakam, the Rector General of the Pallottines.
Rhineland-Palatinate’s minister for Science, Education and Culture, Konrad Wolf, and Alexander Lorz, the Hess Minister of Cultural Affairs also took part in the celebrations. One of the officials could even rejoice at this event as a private person: Klaus Henkes, mayor of Ruppach-Goldhausen is a great-nephew to the newly beatified priest. P. Vinzenz Henkes, a direct nephew of Richard Henkes also took part in the celebrations. Other people present were the General Postulator, Fr. Adam Golec and the Vice Postulator of the beatification process, P. Manfred Probst of the Pallottines as well as several representatives from the association “Selige von Dachau e.V.” and of the Ackermann Gemeinde.
Due to the huge amount of interest, the event was also broadcasted to the Cathedral Square and to the Town Church. Approximately 250 visitors from the Czech Republic, where Fr. Henkes worked during the last years of this service, were present at the beatification. Fr. Henkes had always spent a lot of energy on the communication between Czechs and Germans, a matter which was of dearest interest to him. Ruppach-Goldhausen, Fr. Henkes hometown, has a sister-city arrangement with the Czech town of Strahovice. This arrangement emerged during the beatification process which was opened by Bishop em. Franz Kamphaus in 2003. Bishop Kamphaus also was among the guests of the celebrations of this special day. It was in December 2018, when Pope Frances gave his consent to the martyrium of Fr. Henkes.
Not only reading the Word of God, but actually living it
In his homily, Cardinal Kurt Koch honored Fr. Henkes as a “martyr of Christian love due to love for Christ”. Love, sacrifice and cross: these concepts, according to him, are inseparably interwoven with the life and work of the Pallottine father, who referred to himself as a “sacrificer”, confirming this by his way of life and his devotion for other people until death. He didn’t only read and interpret the Word of God, but he actually lived it – as a cross-bearer for others”. At a very early stage, and very clearly, he noticed that the Nazi ideology was totally inconsistent with the Christian conception of man. That is why Fr. Henkes interfered with the Nazi regime again and again, he was questioned by the Gestapo and finally imprisoned. Firstly, he was isolated at Ratibor, later on he was deported to the Concentration Camp of Dachau.
Koch stated his approval of the beatification to be celebrated on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. As Fr. Henkes gave his life as a sacrifice for Christ and thereby got his share on the cross of Jesus Christ. Henkes was a very credible attestor of this feast and its meaning, the bishop said. The cross, he explained, was no contradiction there or an antithesis to the love of God, but a picture of his love towards the people. “As through the love of Jesus and his cross, we are redeemed from our sins: and our love is the warm flow of redemption. Jesus, as he further explained, transformed the violence committed against him to love. Fr. Henkes followed Jesus in this “primal martyrium”. Though, the bishop finished, he hadn’t searched for this martyrium, jus the way Jesus hadn’t, as the “Christian martyrium isn’t at all marked by death wish or disdainfulness of life; on the contrary, its decisive attribute is love.”
Crossing borders and testifying the Love of God
“A huge present of God”, that is how Fr. Jacob Nampudakam referred to the beatification. It was, he said, a sign of encouragement, to stand up for the Christian belief, no matter where and without any fear; and to testify the unlimited love of God towards all the people, especially to towards the persecuted, weak and ill.” According to him, Henkes was a shining example, which calls upon people from every corner of the world to stand up for the dignity of men. And as one of the people trying to overcome the gaps between Czechs and Germans, he taught us, to overcome national and ethic borders and also to stand in for peace between the peoples of the world.
“This touches our Hearts”
For bishop Georg Bätzing, too, the Pallottine Father is both role model and encouragement. “His determination, his commitment to the gospel, to truth and reconciliation are meant to offer us orientation.”
This is a special day for the church and for him, he stated during his welcoming speech at the dome. “What is happening here today very much touches our hearts, but it is also of importance for the church everywhere.” The diocesan bishop also prepared a pastoral letter on the occasion of the beatification. Its main points include succeeding Henkes, his sense of veracity and his inner freedom. For the liturgy itself, bishop Bätzing had also composed a song about Fr. Richard Henkes together with Ms. Irmgard Scholz from Lahnstein. Scholz came up with the text, the bishop provided the melody.
„Trotz Haft, Unmenschlichkeit und Not
wollt er stets Liebe geben,
freiwillig er Todkranke pflegt:
für sie gab er sein Leben.“
“Despite of imprisonment, inhumanity and misery,
he always wanted to give love,
he voluntarily cared for the fatally ill,
giving his life out of his free will.
A Feast for Fr. Richard Henkes
After a wonderful feast, with the sun shining at the Bishop’s Garden, there was a collective vesper at St. Marien, the Pallottine’s Church in Limburg. Whereas the cathedral choir, led by its director Judith Kunz and the cathedral organist Carsten Igelbrink arranged the musical part of the afternoon liturgy, the vesper was arranged by organist Frank Sittel and St. Marien’s choir lead by Christoph Hilfrich.
After the vesper, approx. 500 guests attended a festive dinner at the “Pater-Richard-Henkes-Saal” and in the refectory of the Limburger Missionshaus.
Report: Diocese Limburg
Images: Diocese Limburg & Pallottines
Translation: Stefanie Ettenberger
More impressions of this unforgettable day can be found in the picture gallery.
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