Aliquippa, the once thriving steel town on the banks of the Ohio River, which last year was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the Catholic pastors and the mayor of the city, is fast becoming a center for veneration of Blessed Karl of Austria. Like the entire Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area of which it forms a part, Aliquippa can be seen almost as a microcosm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, over which Blessed Karl once ruled. Austrians, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Croatians, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Italians are heavily represented among the European immigrants who found a new home in the rolling hills and river gorges of Western Pennsylvania. This diverse community, which still cherishes family memories of the old country, offers a fertile ground for planting devotion to the holy man who once ruled over their many nations as Emperor and King.
On Saturday, April 1, 2017, the 95th anniversary of Blessed Karl's death, Aliquippa's St. Titus Church, for the fifth time, honored the holy ruler with a Traditional Latin Mass, luncheon, and conference. These celebrations of Blessed Karl form part of a larger program of Traditional Masses at St. Titus Church, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Woodlawn Council 2161 Traditional Latin Mass Guild. Since 2007, these Masses have highlighted pinnacles of our Catholic faith and history, like the Battle of Lepanto and Our Lady of Fatima.
It is a rare treat to celebrate Blessed Karl on the actual anniversary of his holy death, since April first so often falls during Holy Week or Easter Week. This partly explains why, at his beatification, he received the feast day of October 21, the anniversary of his 1911 marriage to Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. Still, April first remains precious for all those who appreciate that day as the culmination of a staggering Way of the Cross, which he so generously and lovingly offered for “his people.”
Since all the days of Lent this year fell exactly as they did in 1922, when Blessed Karl died on the vigil of Passion Sunday, the Mass offered at St. Titus was the same Mass that his sorrowing family heard as he suffered his last agony. “All you that thirst, come to the waters, saith the Lord; and you that have no money, come and drink with joy” (Introit, Isaiah 55:1) must have seemed to be spoken directly to the poor, rejected emperor, who had lost everything, was penniless, and was at that moment tortured with thirst. The words of the Communion prayer were like a foretaste of the relief God was preparing for him that day in Heaven: “The Lord ruleth me, and I shall want nothing: He hath set me in a place of pasture: He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment.” (Ps. 22)
The traditional Latin Missa cantata for Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent was celebrated by Canon Matthew Talarico, Provincial Superior of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. Priests from the Institute of Christ the King often celebrate Masses sponsored by the Knights of Columbus at St. Titus, but Canon Talarico is special as a native son of Pittsburgh, whose journey through the seminary the Woodlawn Council had helped to sponsor. His parents, Louis and Judith Talarico, who were present at the Mass and conference, and regularly attend Latin Mass events at St. Titus, each have a grandfather who lived in Blessed Karl's empire---Lou's grandfather in Austria, Judy's in Croatia.
Gábor and Teréz László, the featured speakers at the luncheon after Mass, presented an overview of Christianity in Hungary today, followed by a look at how Hungarians remember their last king, Karl IV. Gábor László began his presentation this way:
Teréz and I... are both products of a Christian Hungary. Our formative years were spent there under communist rule, yet Holy Mother Church, severely restricted, seriously wounded, completely emptied of its infrastructure, could still in a mysterious way raise us to know and understand the articles of our faith and succeed in planting in us the sense of the ultimate reality of our destiny.... Many people fervently prayed for us that we, however imperfectly, might know this truth, keep the faith and raise our children in it. The last apostolic king of Hungarians, Blessed Karl, also prayed for us and offered his sufferings to God for his peoples and the flourishing of Christianity in Hungary, his kingdom.
Mr. László then turned to his survey of Christianity in Hungary today, covering such subtopics as historical consciousness, law and politics, education, the arts, the media, Christian institutions, and spirituality among the people.
Christianity in the national consciousness goes back to the fourth century, when St. Martin of Tours was born in the Roman province of Pannonia. The route of the newly established pilgrimage dedicated to St. Martin connects his birthplace in present-day Hungary to his tomb in Tours, France.
The father of Saint Stephen was Geza, who ruled the Hungarian tribal federation from 972 to 997. While still a pagan, he encouraged Christian missionary activity, and in 996 established the Benedictine monastery dedicated to St. Martin at Pannonhalma. In July 2011, the heart of Blessed Karl's son, Otto von Habsburg, who had been Crown Prince of Austria and Hungary, was entombed in Pannonhalma Archabbey.
St. Stephen (975-1038) was crowned Apostolic King of Hungary on January 1, 1001. The ten dioceses he set up in 1038 still form the geographical structure of the Church in Hungary. His Basilica in Budapest, as well as many institutions, schools, and street names throughout Hungary bear his name. Every year he is honored by a solemn procession carrying his incorrupt right hand. The rock opera King Stephen, composed in 1983, plays almost continuously. His Admonition to his son, St. Imre, is well-known in Hungary: “My dearest son, if you desire to honor the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and Apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God, and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession. ...”
The Crusades continue to spark the collective imagination of the nation. In the often played, most famous national opera “Bank Ban” by Ferenc Erkel, King Andrew II is off to the Holy Land as the story begins, and becomes the wise judge in the tragic situation when he returns home.
Hungary’s role in defending Europe against the aggressive Ottoman Empire is much appreciated by the entire nation. János Hunyadi's most famous victory against the Turks at Belgrade in 1456 is internationally commemorated by the practice of Noon Bell, which is broadcast by radio every day in Hungary.
Eventually in 1541 the Ottoman Turks took Buda by deceit and ruled the middle section of Hungary for 150 years. They had arrived as visitors, but after securing strategic positions on Castle Hill in Buda they drew their swords and unfurled their flags… Every Hungarian school child learns this from the most popular novel, “The Stars of Eger,” by Geza Gardonyi. Small wonder that Hungarians overwhelmingly reject the demand of the European Union to take in Muslim refugees.
Mr. László then turned to the steps taken by the government of Hungary to reaffirm the country's Christian identity.
On August 15, 2001, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the ancient Holy Crown of Hungary was placed in the very center of the parliament building.
The new Constitution of Hungary published in 2011 contains the following salient declarations:
- We are proud ... that our King Stephen, the saintly patron of the Hungarian State for a thousand years, built a secure foundation and placed our fatherland in the line of Christian Europe.
- We recognize the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood.
- We commit to promoting and safeguarding our heritage, our unique language, Hungarian culture, and the languages and cultures of nationalities living in Hungary.
- We are proud that our people defended Europe for a thousand years and that Europe's common values were enriched by their talents and their industry.
- We hold that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our common existence, and that our fundamental cohesive values are fidelity, faith and love.
- Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.
- Family ties shall be based on marriage and/or the relationship between parents and children.
- Hungary shall encourage the commitment to have children.
- The protection of families shall be regulated by a cardinal Act: Human dignity shall be inviolable. Every human being shall have the right to life and human dignity; the life of the fetus shall be protected from the moment of conception.
Christian symbolism is featured on state insignia and emblems. Under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Hungary has waged an ongoing resistance to the demands of the EU, which continues to move in a secular, even anti-Christian direction.
The Hungarian government in September 2016 became the first in the world to establish a department dedicated to helping persecuted Christians, to which it allocated three million euros to assist Christians facing violence and oppression around the world.
The Hungarian government donated hundreds of thousands of euros to restore a church heavily damaged by a 6.6 magnitude earthquake that struck central Italy on October 30, 2016. Andrea Carradori, pastor of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Tolentino, Italy, appealed to Prime Minister Orbán for aid, considering all that Orbán had done “to safeguard Christian roots.” Hungary's ambassador to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, who is related to Blessed Karl, traveled to Tolentino on December 14 to personally survey the damage from the earthquake, and was surprised and moved to discover a relic of Blessed Karl venerated there.
After receiving approval from his ministers on December 19 to donate “a considerable sum” to restore the church, Prime Minister Orbán sent a handwritten letter to Pastor Carradori, expressing the solidarity of the Hungarians "toward our fellow Italian Christians hit by natural disasters." He added that Europe’s future can only be helped by “rediscovering Christian values, which still represent the most important force of communion for a city and a whole country.”
In education and the arts, Hungary can boast a Catholic University, rapid expansion of Christian primary and secondary education, as well as the introduction of Christian moral teaching in all schools at the primary and secondary level. Christian churches have taken bold initiatives to cultivate the talents of the gypsy minority. Hungary is engaged in restoring neglected historical churches, restoring Christian symbols in public squares and buildings, reviving religious music, and building new churches.
In the media, Christian programs air on state-owned radio and television. Catholic radio stations have been established, such as Magyar Katolikus Radio, Szent István Radio, and Maria Radio, while on the Internet is broadcast Bonum TV, and there are several Internet portals, such as http://kereszteny.mandiner.hu/tag/media/
There is a proliferation of Christian publishers of books, journals and papers. Historical churches operate with state grants and without restrictions. Christian lay movements (Regnum Marianum, Marriage Encounter, Focolare, Community of Sant'Egidio, Order of Malta, etc.) are thriving, as are the Scout movement, the Jesuit House of Dialogue, and similar entities.
As to Christian spirituality in Hungary today, there is ample choice of attending Holy Mass in larger cities; the situation in the villages is more problematic. The Catholic hierarchy is not much interested in the traditional Latin Mass, but many charismatic clerics have emerged, and there is richness in the various retreat houses, huge popularity of pilgrimages both within Hungary and abroad, and general optimism when the state of Christianity is assessed.
In the second part of his presentation, Mr. László turned to Blessed Karl and a review of Habsburg rule, which began in Hungary in 1526, when a Habsburg inherited the throne upon the death of the last Hungarian king. The relationship of the Kingdom of Hungary with its Habsburg rulers was historically troubled, because although legally Hungary was ruled as a separate kingdom, it had in fact often been treated like an Austrian province.
Blessed Karl reigned in Hungary as King Karl IV. Today there is still living memory in Hungary that he was their last king. After the fall of communism, Karl became better known because of his spirituality. Although Hungary did little to bring about his beatification, it was mostly welcome among Catholics, leading to increased interest among the people and by historians. A bust of King Karl IV is now installed in Saint Stephen's Basilica in Budapest. The 100th anniversary of King Karl's 1916 coronation was properly celebrated at Mattyas Templom, the site of his coronation, with representatives of the government in attendance. The centennial was commemorated by a grand exhibition in the National Museum of Hungary.
Concluding their presentation on a note of prayerful meditation, Teréz László read, with great feeling, a passage by the renowned Hungarian writer and journalist Gyula Krúdy (1878-1933), who attended the Coronation and left us this description of the experience:
"The King is kneeling on the steps of the altar. Even the most imperturbable souls must have felt rare shivers at this moment. The soul of the King is in the company of God. It is soaring up into the heavens, like a white dove, rising ever higher on shining wings, beyond the Earth, beyond the clouds, ... now, it is tiny like a bright little star... and now, with an exuberant surrender it throws itself on the footstool of the Lord. This was the second time during the ceremony that the King was kneeling on the steps of the altar, now, as he was being anointed with oil. From this point on, coming and going, following the ritual of the ceremony, into the sacristy, back to his place, then again back to the altar, it was as if his soul were, in fact, far away, with God. This is something wonderful and superhuman, my dear non-believing reader, now, in the 1916th year of the Lord, when we had almost forgotten that there is Someone above us.
"This must have been the state of mind of saints working miracles for their fellow men, a vision of the glorified, beyond the limits of bitter sobriety and suffocating justice, where the human soul is fettered by pedestrian wisdoms: Between his anointing and the coronation, the King was in an exalted, other-worldly state. He seems to be our Prince Imre, vying with missionary priests in the adoration of God. O History, at times you tell the truth! Kings are kin of God. Now, at this moment, the congregation raises a dull murmur while the King is kneeling again in his antique-golden mantle in front of the priests with their red Scriptures. There is tension on every countenance, flags dither in trembling hands, it is so quiet in the church that one can almost hear the voice of Cardinal Csernoch: "Accingere gladio...".
"The young King, his sword drawn, turns back from the altar, and just like a young medieval knight, he strikes three times with the blade. On Holy Trinity Square, the soldiers fire their salvo. Now, just now, the white and red bishops, standing erect around the altar are raising their hands. Their right arms are all in the air. The dark, somber figure of István Tisza ascends the altar. Up there, from the left, he stretches out his hand toward the crown, which lies on a golden tray on the altar. From the right, Cardinal Csernoch does the same.
"The King is kneeling high up on the stairs, his head bent down. At this moment, the crown starts to levitate. It swings in the air, like a miraculous sacrament, quietly, like a heavenly breath; glowing like the virtue of Hungarians. A few seconds pass. Maybe, even a full minute. The crown is still levitating in the holding hands, between heaven and earth, approaching with a barely perceptible, slow movement the brown curls of the King. Then, it halts above his head. The eyes of the astounded Hungarian noblemen are bulging so much that one can see the veins in them. Breaths are held, mouths fall open. The long, slim figure of Tisza bends over the King with fatherly care. The crown reaches the royal head. It settles there firmly, although the hands of the King are clasped. Thus, the relic of our ancient holy kings receives, once again, a role in the history of our homeland.
"The King stands at his throne and looks proudly around. A hoarse, but resounding voice, the voice of Tisza, shouts: "Long live the King!" Now, the King looks around with wonderment, seeing the people again. The white dove has returned from Heaven. Karl IV smiles. He sees humble priests and humble people around him."
Since Blessed Karl's beatification on October 3, 2004, Masses in his honor have been proliferating around the world on his feast day, October 21. Among the most magnificent of these is the Solemn Pontifical Mass at Saint Mary Mother of God Church in Washington DC, with the participation of the chivalric orders of the Church in their colorful regalia, the presence of royalty, and a soaring musical program befitting a king. A reception and program about Blessed Karl follow the Mass.
But honoring Blessed Karl on April first is also catching on. While the holy ruler was being celebrated in Aliquippa, back in Washington DC, Fr. Richard Mullins, Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church and a Knight of Malta, added to his celebration of the Mass for Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent, as a commemoration, the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion approved by the Church for the Knights of Malta in their Masses honoring Blessed Karl, to whom Fr. Mullins also devoted his sermon.
Blessed Karl, emperor, king, husband and father, man of perpetual prayer, hero in suffering, has a powerful message for the world today. As nations rediscover the glories of their Christian heritage, perhaps he will eventually join the handful of saints who are remembered and celebrated twice each calendar year.
For more information about Blessed Karl, please visit the website of the Emperor Karl League of Prayer for Peace Among the Nations (www.emperorcharles.org). The League of Prayer is the organization appointed by the Church as “actor” for the Cause of Blessed Karl. Members promise to pray for his canonization, and endeavor to make him known and loved in ever wider circles. My own contact information can be found on the website, as I am always happy to respond personally to inquiries about Blessed Karl.
Emperor Karl and Empress Zita may also be considered patrons of the large Catholic Family and models of fidelity to Catholic marriage.