As entire Ulma family is beatified in Poland, pope hails them as ‘ray of light in the darkness’

September 26, 2023

A beatification image of the Ulma family is seen in a Sept. 10, 2023, photo in Markowa, Poland, at the beatification Mass. Józef and Wiktoria Ulma with their seven children were beatified as martyrs. They helped a Jewish family during World War II in their home, were denounced and killed by German Nazis on March 24, 1944. (OSV News photo/Polish Bishops Conference)

MARKOWA, Poland (OSV News) — In one of the most significant moments in Polish post-war history, the Ulma family was beatified in Markowa on Sept. 10.

“I think it will only get me at night when I come back home because now I still can’t believe it,” Jerzy Ulma, nephew of Blessed Józef Ulma, told OSV News.

His uncle Józef, along with his wife Wiktoria and seven children: Stanislawa, Barbara, Wladyslaw, Franciszek, Antoni, Maria and a child without a name born during the martyrdom of their mother were declared blessed by papal envoy Marcello Cardinal Semeraro in Markowa, where the Ulma family lived and died March 24, 1944. They were killed by German occupants of Poland for giving shelter to eight Jews in their house.

“It would be a mistake if the day of the Ulma beatification would be used only to remember the terror and atrocities committed by the perpetrators,” Cardinal Semeraro said in a homily. “We would like this day to be a day of joy.”

In 1942, Wiktoria and Józef accepted a Jewish family into their home. “Today, along with the new blessed, we would like to remember their names,” Cardinal Semeraro said. They were Saul Goldman with sons Baruch, Mechel, Joachim, Moses as well as Golda Grünfeld and Lea Didner with little daughter Reshla,” he listed.

“The gesture of Józef and Wiktoria was a sign of obedience to God’s commandment,” the cardinal said. “It was a ‘yes’ to God’s will,” he said, emphasizing that a man “despised, rejected and mortally wounded” was welcomed to their home.

During the Angelus prayer on Sept. 10, Pope Francis praised the new blesseds, “an entire family exterminated by the Nazis on March 24, 1944, for having given shelter to some persecuted Jews.”

“They opposed the hatred and violence that characterized that time with evangelical love,” the pontiff said. “May this Polish family, which represents a ray of light in the darkness of the Second World War, be for all of us a model to imitate in the zeal for goodness and service to those in need,” he said before asking the faithful to applaud for the newly blessed.

In Markowa, the families of Wiktoria and Józef accompanied Father Roman Chowaniec, parish priest at Markowa’s St. Dorothy Church when he carried relics of the Ulma family. The project of reliquary includes a tree from which “the family grew,” as beatification organizers explained, and now will be part of the parish church where they proclaimed their faith and their house where they sheltered their Jewish neighbors.

The beatification altar included multimedia elements. Pictures taken by Józef Ulma were displayed throughout the beatification Mass to illustrate who was being beatified — “saints from the neighborhood.” Before and after the Liturgy, the images could be seen as a slideshow.

“This beatification is an emphasis on the importance of married and family life in unity and fidelity in everyday life,” Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, primate of Poland, told OSV News. The Ulmas “took up their vocation very concretely, being faithful to the end to what is the basic reality of man, which is love of life, fidelity to life and also love towards other people. This is something amazing that we can pass on from this beatification to the whole world,” he said.

For U.S. priest Father Michal Niemczak, being in Markowa for the beatification of his family members was something he was “very grateful for.”

The priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who is now forming seminarians at Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon, came to Poland carrying his tablet with 1,156 intentions shared with him through a Google doc by his parishioners in New Mexico, family and friends, but also people from around the U.S. and Poland.

“So far, I got 423 of them,” he told OSV News at 7 a.m., three hours before the beatification, about how many intentions he had already gotten through. “I wish that our family in heaven grows because now we have an example.”

“Many families are going through difficulties in their lives, but there is so much hope I see in these intentions that the Ulma family will intercede,” he said.

Along with Cardinal Semeraro, Gerhard Cardinal Müller and Robert Cardinal Sarah arrived from the Vatican, accompanied by Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, longtime personal secretary of St. John Paul II, Kazimierz Cardinal Nycz of Warsaw and Cardinal-designate Grzegorz Rys of Lódz. Over 70 bishops and 1,000 priests concelebrated Mass.