Preached in Kosice, Slovakia, at the Mass of Thanksgiving for the beatification of Sr. Sara,
November 24, 2006.
We remember Blessed Sára Salkaházi here, in her native city, Kosice, which was very important for her. She was born in this city on May 11, 1899. Her mother desired to give to her talented child the very best education, and enrolled her in the school of the Ursuline Sisters. Sára Salkaházi loved with great devotion Rákóczi, the legendary prince and leader for freedom, whose remains rest in this cathedral. A cathedral, dedicated to that Saint Elizabeth, whose 800th anniversary of birth we celebrate this year. Blessed Sara Salkaházi was still a student when she wrote her first article, published in the "Evening News" the best paper in the city. The readers of the article did not guess that its author is a young girl, less than 20 years old.
As a teacher, a book-binding apprentice, and later assistant, Sara is faced in this city with social problems; she searches for the deeper connections, for the real roots of poverty and underdevelopment; she becomes sensitive to social problems here. In this city she comes to learn about the work of the Sisters of Social Service.
Kosice in the life of Blessed Sara is a city of passionate search. Where does this passion come from? Perhaps from the "dearest Momi" how she calls her mother, who after the death of her husband directs alone the Hotel Schalkhaz, and supports her children all by herself. It is a fact, when Sara lives already in Budapest she rejects some critics' negative opinion about Kosice with a bristling indignation. "What does this good critic know, what does it means Kosice? Only the long-time residents of Kosice know this... The true residents are forever in love with this city!"
This girl, with her bristling consciousness of Kosice can teach us much!
1. Blessed Sister Sara can teach us freedom from false ideologies.
The decision to fight all her life against poverty, misery and social injustice, is born within her in Kosice. She studies a course in social welfare. This leads her to the Sisters of Social Service.
When Hitler was victorious during the first years of the war, a campaign was started in Hungary to "Germanize" the population, insisting: "Let us be proud of belonging to the victorious German people! Let us claim again the original German family name!" Sister Sara rejects the attraction of this ideology. An inscription in the register of Kosice states: On the 10th of March 1943 Schalkház Sára changed her name to (a Hungarian) Salkaházi.
In 1936 she writes in her diary: "Have a desire for martyrdom; if, out of God's special love you would not get it, at least live the martyrdom of sainthood!"
After the German invasion, Blessed Sister Sara was responsible for the Working-Women's home on Bokreta Street. Its doors were opened by the Society before the persecuted. With the direction of their foundress, Margit Slachta, the sisters were ready to this even at the price of risking their lives.
Cardinal Péter Erdő during the Mass of beatification stated: "a beatification is the expression of the Church's opinion, that in those traumatic times hers was the correct way of action. It is also a statement of direction: in conflict situations and in everyday life we need to seek what is the will of Jesus Christ for our life."
Blessed Sister Sara, the most attractive hero of the history of the 20th century, had to struggle with dictatorship even after her death. It is a special grimace of our history that the heroic example of Sara Salkaházi, - who was committed to justice and consciously opposed Nazism, - was silenced by the atheistic powers, together with many other persons and institutions, who risked saving Jews and others who were persecuted. The one-party state, which claimed to be socialist, found the social orientation of Catholicism to be too uncomfortable. For their goals a conservative church, barricaded from modern life was more acceptable. Even though the process of beatification could not be initiated during the decades of the "people's democracy", her veneration did not falter. Ideologies and dictatorships changed, but the heroic example of Blessed Sister Sara became more and more attractive.
The twentieth century was the century of ideologies. The task of the 21st century's Christianity is to brake out from the ideologies' prison, as Blessed Sara did, and to cling faithfully to Christ, who is the truth.
2. Blessed Sister Sara calls to reconciliation between the nations.
Reconciliation is a burning necessity between nationalities within society, and between nations! Margaret Slachta, the foundresss of the Society of the Sisters of Social service was once questioned: "Why do you protect Jews? I want Christians to understand what their obligations are coming from religion; Christ taught to love the neighbor without distinction; from this flow the protection of the neighbor's rights, as is stated in the Ten Commandments." Sara Salkahazi understood the intention of her foundress. In 1944, when press and radio were full with anti-Semitic campaign, and when the most dangerous thing was to be seen in the company of Jewish persons, Sister Sara not only is seen in the company of her persecuted compatriots marked with a yellow-star, but as it was stated, shared her home with them.
For her heroic stance toward Judaism the Jerusalem institute of Jad Vasem admitted her among the "righteous of the world" in 1972.
Blessed Sara is open not only toward Judaism. She is in solidarity with people living in far-away continents; in solidarity with Hungarians who live far away from each other. She volunteers in 1937 for missionary work in Brazil, and her superiors accept it. However, because she was not a Hungarian citizen, she could not leave for Latin-America. During her vowed life she served at times at the base of the North-eastern region of the Carpathian Mountains, or in Komarno; at other times in Budapest. She supervises soup-kitchen for children; supervises old-folks home; she visits families, organizes study courses for workers; gives lectures; directs a catholic store; publishes a newspaper. She helps wherever, and in whatever manner she can.
We walk in the footsteps of Blessed Sara, the path of reconciliation, when we at this hour celebrate together, and remember the action of the Slovak and Hungarian Bishops' Conferences, mutually asking forgiveness for the sins committed against each-other's people. This action, according to Cardinal Erdő, is more than simply "asking forgiveness." Between the two Bishop's Conferences this is a witness to faith and a commitment to common values."
A deepened Christian faith opens up persons to others; it enables them to bear witness to shared faith and mutual values. Common humanity and love are able to bind nations together! The statement is true, that great examples of Christianity cannot be locked in within the borders of one nation alone!
3. The persistent search of Blessed Sara calls us to a struggle.
On the 27th of December, 1944 the Arrow-Cross soldiers surrounded the Bokreta St. house of the Sisters of Social Service, which was under the direction of Sister Sara. They were searching for Jews. They took into custody 5 suspected persons. Sister Sara was not at home at this moment. She arrived home at the end of the search. She could have avoided arrest, but did not do it. She entered the house, trying to protect her co-workers and the harbored. She too, was taken away with them. According to witnesses they were undressed; naked they were shot into the Danube. Before the execution Sara Salkaházi turned, and made the sign of the cross. According to a recollection, the bullets hit her during this act.
During the beatification the last section of Sister Sara's life is brought into focus. However, the last station of her life was preceded by a consciously chosen preparation.
"Alleluia! Ecce ego, mitte me!" "Here I am, send me" was the motto chosen for her vowed life in 1940.
Send me! Se searched for a long time, where to go. At the age of 29 she starts her novitiate. This was a difficult change in her life. It is not by accident that she writes in 1930 into her diary: "Two years ago I was a smoker, a carousing, a gypsy-music loving, and thoughtless person." From her diary we can follow her transformation, while she dedicates all her gifts and energies to Christ service. "Do I want to become free? I do, I want, my Christ! Yes! I place into your hands, into the palm of your hands my heart! Free me! Make me completely free, that I may be completely yours" - she writes.
In 1943 she consciously offers her life, with the permission of her superiors, in order to protect the ill, the weak and the elderly: "My most merciful Father! You created me out of great love, and from your compassionate goodness you adopted me to be your child…You gave me, unworthy as I am, the grace of vocation and the Society... I offer myself today in gratitude for my Sisters as a victim of our Society. Accept my death with all its pain as a ransom for the life of the Sisters, especially for the elderly, the ill and the weak."
Was it and inspiration? Was it a premonition? Sister Sara became the only victim of the Society during Word War II.
A saint, - according to a wisdom saying - is an ordinary person. But her ordinary life is formed by much harder reality than the ordinary. Thus became Sara Salkaházi, a native of Kosice, a saint; on such a path can we, ordinary persons, also become saints.
In conclusion I quote from the homily of Cardinal Erdő, preached at the beatification Mass. "We need the example of Sister Sara in a particular way during this year of jubilee. We are praying for the renewal of our nation with atonement and reconciliation. We pray for a renewal which is possible only in the light of truth, of justice and love. We pray for a spirituality which recognizes in the weakest, and in the poorest the human being, who, after all is the greatest treasure in all societies, and at all times. There is a burning need for such renewal and reconciliation within our society; among the nations in the Carpathian basin, and in the whole world." Amen.
If you want to donate to this cause or support the formation of the future generations of the Sisters of Social Service, you may send your contributions to:
Sisters of Social Service - Generalate
H-1029 Budapest, Báthori u. 10.