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PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Church's eldest daughter, France, is celebrating the beatification of five French priests martyred by communist-styled, atheistic forces in 1871.
The priests were beatified this past Sunday at the historic Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris near the very spot on Rue Haxo where they were executed over 150 years ago. They were shot by a firing squad during a two-month takeover of the city by the so-called Paris Commune, a revolutionary, anti-Catholic group.
During the homily of the beatification Mass, Cdl. Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, stated: "The story of these martyrs offers a warning for today, but also a message of hope from a Christian perspective."
The martyrs, to whom Semeraro refers, ranging in age from 48 to 64, are Fr. Mathieu-Henri Planchat, a member of the Congregation of Religious of St. Vincent de Paul, as well as Frs. Ladislas Radigue, Polycarpe Tuffier, Marcellin Rouchouze and Frézal Tardieu, all members of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
In the chaos of the collapse of France's Second Empire and the establishment of the Third Republic, angry French citizens seized power in Paris and set up an ad hoc government from March 18 to May 28, 1871.
They called the revolutionary government the Paris Commune — named after the commune that governed Paris during the bloody French Revolution a century before. They themselves became known as Communards.
The Paris Commune of 1871, like its terrible predecessor, was anti-Catholic, anticlerical and anti-God. Catholic churches and schools were closed and refitted for political purposes. A Communard newspaper declared belief in God "a pretext for robbery and murder."
Anyone even suspected of opposing the movement was in danger of arrest and execution. Many religious and laypeople alike had to leave the city in fear of their lives.
Father Mathieu-Henri Planchat, already famous for his work among the poor, was one who remained in Paris to minister to his parishioners and others who stayed behind.
On the first day of the takeover of the city, March 18, members of the commune came to Planchat's parish under the pretext of seizing weapons. They found no weapons but returned a few days later on Holy Thursday to arrest, then interrogate and imprison him.
In prison, Planchat met up with the four other now-beatified priests. They were not allowed to offer Mass, but sensing the imminent danger of their situation, they heard each others' confessions as well as those of the other prisoners to whom they ministered.
Father Alberto Toutin, who also spoke during the beatification Mass said, "During long, lonely hours in their prison cells, God accomplished his work, preparing them to be citizens of the ultimate homeland, while inseparably citizens of this nation — not sparing them suffering and violence, but sustaining them and making his power shine in their vulnerable flesh."
After being imprisoned for over 30 days, they were dragged through the streets — the butt of jeers and curses. They arrived at their final destination on 85 Rue Haxo, where they were beaten by the Communards. They were pushed against a brick wall, and for the next 30 minutes, the five priests, along with other enemies of the revolution, were riddled with bullets.
Twenty-five years before the Paris Commune and two years before the publication of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, Blessed Pope Pius IX condemned "the unspeakable doctrine of communism," making himself the first pope to include the term in a papal document.
In the 1846 encyclical Qui Pluribus, the pope declared communism to be "a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law. For if this doctrine were accepted, the complete destruction of everyone's laws, government, property, and even of human society itself would follow."
Marx praised the revolutionary takeover of France's capitol by the Paris Commune. He saw it as a prototype of his workers' revolution. Some suggest Marx might even have been behind it — a claim he denied. During the same month that the priests were killed, he said with sadistic irony:
Working men's Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators [the National French Army, which quashed the Commune] history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them.
[T]he Commune was a superb example of the great proletarian movement of the nineteenth century ... [I]t stirred the socialist movement throughout Europe, it demonstrated the strength of civil war, it dispelled patriotic illusions, and destroyed the naïve belief in any efforts of the bourgeoisie for common national aims.
At Sunday's beatification Mass, Cdl. Semeraro said the death of the five priests who were "massacred by the violent madness of the revolutionaries" serves as "a warning for today."
He added, returning to his earlier message of hope, that even though good "may seem to be defeated by abuse and cunning, in reality, it continues to work in silence and in discretion, bearing fruit in the long term."
The five blessed priests were martyred on March 26. Two days later, the National French Army closed in on the city and began retaking the city in another bloody episode.
The cardinal also described this time in French history as "a complex story" and called for prayer for all the dead of the Commune.