Monday, December 10, 2007

Gone to Meet God... and Franz

As one of Gordon Zahn's friends wrote, "The church lost a great man yesterday."

Zahn, a longtime leader of the Catholic peace movement, died at 84 after a years-long battle with Alzheimer's.

In October, one of his great causes was vindicated with the beatification of Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian farmer killed by the Nazis for his refusal to join the army of the Third Reich. Zahn is widely credited with "discovering" the Jagerstatter story and bringing it to the world by penning the now-blessed's major biography, In Solitary Witness, first published in 1964.

Dubbed "the dean of American Catholic pacifists," Zahn co-founded Pax Christi and played a key role in the drafting of the US bishops' landmark 1983 pastoral on "The Challenge of Peace."

"In person he was the gentlest of men," one friend said of him, "painfully shy and, because of a hearing impairment since his early 20s, often appeared slightly detached in public.

"He was the quintessential 'old school' gentleman; even on Saturdays, he would wear a shirt and tie before going out in public.

"Although the principled stands he took throughout his life would be considered by most to be 'liberal' or 'progressive,' Gordon maintained a very traditional piety, attending daily Mass and praying the rosary regularly. Many of his writings insisted on the spiritual roots necessary to remain 'for the long haul' in the struggle for peace." A funeral liturgy is planned for next week in Milwaukee, with a larger public memorial eyed for early in the New Year.

The spiritual road to peace marked Benedict XVI's Saturday meditation at the traditional 8 December "homage" to the statue of Mary Immaculate in Rome's Piazza di Spagna.

"Without God or, worse still, against God, we will never be able to find the way that leads to love," the Pope told the overflow crowd. "We will never defeat the power of hate and violence, we will never be able to build a stable peace."

Turning to the Madonna, B16 prayed that she "might show us the way that leads to peace," which he described as "the way toward the reign of Jesus."