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June 11, 2006|
Charles of Hapsburg, eldest son of the Archduke Otto and Maria Josephine of Saxony, was born on August 17, 1887, in Persenbeug, not far from Vienna, Austria. The child was the great-nephew of the emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph. He grew up under the loving but firm hand of his mother, a very Christian woman. His father, however, led a scandalous life. Charles was entrusted to Christian tutors who cultivated his excellent nature. He had only one fault shyness.
Charles made his First Communion in Vienna in 1898. «If one didn't know how to pray, he'd learn from this young man,» commented one of the onlookers. The child attended a public high school run by Scottish Benedictines, where his good qualities developedhonesty, charity, perseverance, and modesty. Though his health was at times a cause for concern, the archduke Charles continued to develop intellectually and spiritually. Irreproachable in conduct, he was nonetheless cheerful, and was very fond of music. In 1905, he began his military career, as was the rule for a Hapsburg. The following year, he lost his father, who died with unexpected piety and serenity. He then became the second in line to the throne, after his uncle, Franz Ferdinand, who introduced him to affairs of State.
We must help each other get to Heaven
In 1912, Charles served as a captain in Galicia. He actively worked to improve his troops' material and moral well-being. On November 20, Zita gave birth to a son, Otto; six years later, on the day of this eldest son's First Communion, Charles consecrated his family to the Sacred Heart. In February 1913, the little family settled in Hetzendorf Palace, close to Vienna. There, Charles led an ascetic life, working late into the night. He submitted to all the constraints of the life of an officer, without ever using his rank to obtain privileges.
At the beginning of 1914, the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand confided to Charles: «I am sure I will be assassinated. The police know about it.» In fact, the Freemasons had condemned Franz Ferdinand to death, viewing him as an obstacle to their plan to destroy the Catholic Austro-Hungarian empire. The Masons' relentless effort to destroy the last Catholic empire in Europe should come as no surprise. Masonic groups, even when they say they are spiritual, have a world vision closed to the supernatural, and they reject the concept of divine revelation as well as that of dogma. This is why Freemasonry is constantly opposed to the Catholic Church. In 1990, a high-ranking Freemason acknowledged this fundamental antagonism: «The future of society is being determined by the battle being waged at this time. Two cultures are pitted against one another: one based on the Gospel and the other based on the tradition of republican humanism. These two cultures are fundamentally opposed. Either the truth is transcendent and revealed, by a God who is the origin of all things, or the truth is based on the constructions of Man, which can always be questioned because they are infinitely perfectible» (Paul Gourdeau). On November 26, 1983, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, clarified, «The Church's negative judgment on Masonic organizations remains unchanged, because their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church, and membership in these organizations remains forbidden by the Church. Those faithful who belong to Masonic organizations are in a state of serious sin and may not receive Holy Communion.»
«Under your protection...»
In November 1916, Franz Joseph died a pious death, after reigning for 68 years. Charles of Hapsburg became the emperor of Austria and the apostolic king of Hungary. He was twenty-nine years old. In a manifesto published the same day, he declared, «I will do all in my power to banish, as quickly as possible, the horrors and privations of war, and to procure for my people the benefits of peace.» On December 22, Charles had his minister Czernin draft a peace proposal, grudgingly accepted by his ally Wilhelm II, the emperor of Germany. The peace proposal would be rejected by the Entente powers (France, Great Britain, Russia, and Italy). In Budapest, on December 30, 1916, Charles assumed the crown that Saint Stephen of Hungary had received from Pope Sylvester II in 1001. He confided, however: «Being king is not the satisfaction of an ambition, but a sacrifice for the good of all the people.» Shortly thereafter, Wilhelm II gave the order to launch all-out submarine warfare. The Austrian sovereign refused to support this offensive which, targeted at commercial ships, would cause many civilian deaths. He could not bear the thought of the horrifying battles that had already resulted in millions of deaths throughout Europe, and for absurd reasons. Charles commented, «It is not enough if I alone want peace. The entire nation and all the ministers must be at my side!» But the press continually fed the people's belligerence with triumphant press releases, while hiding the truth of the empire's situation, that the misery of the people grew greater each day.
Passion for peace
Since the emperor's accession, campaigns of slander had been orchestrated against him, even on his morals, despite his incontestable integrity and temperance. He was also called a bigot. In fact, the emperor daily attended Mass and received Communion, he said the Rosary faithfully, and loved visiting Marian shrines and sanctuaries. It was his intense spiritual life that gave him the strength he needed for his heavy responsibilities. Charles was also accused of incompetence, despite his record as a remarkable officer. He spoke seven languages, he had an extraordinary capacity for work, and he possessed a rare ability to see the overall picture. Far better than those around him, he could see the mortal danger his empire was in. In spring 1917, he forcefully refused to allow Lenin, then living in exile in Switzerland, to cross his territory to foment revolution in Russia, a Machiavellian plan conceived by the German officers. Charles understood that Lenin was potentially a danger to all of Europe. He sensed that Bolshevism would not be content to ruin Russia, but would spread everywhere. Nevertheless, Lenin managed to return to Russia by crossing Germany in a special train.
In the chaos of defeat
In January 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, in his «Fourteen Points» inspired by the goals of Freemasonry, proclaimed that future peace required the reorganization of central and Balkan Europe according to «the principle of nations.» This meant the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian empire in favor of small nation-states. This utopian concept, inspired by the Czech socialists Benes and Masaryk, is at the root of the conflicts tearing apart central Europe to this day. Charles tried in vain to make the White House listen to reason. In the west, the last German offensives of May and June 1918 were stopped, followed in July by a counter-offensive by the Entente. In the weeks that followed Germany retreated and was forced, after the outbreak of the revolution in Berlin, to sue for the peace that would be signed on November 11. The German defeat triggered the secession of the Slavic nations from the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Hungarian parliament proclaimed independence from the Hapsburgs. On November 2, the emperor was forced to sue Italy for peace. Political circles urged him to abdicate, but he saw no right to abandon an authority received from God. Under great pressure, he gave up the exercise of his power without abdicating, in Vienna on the 12th. He then retired to the palace at Eckartsau, where he was immediately placed under police surveillance. In March 1919, the Austrian Republic exiled Charles I, who protested against the violence against him and reaffirmed his legitimacy in the face of a power born of insurrection.
The emperor and his family settled in Prangins, close to Geneva, Switzerland. From there, encouraged by Pope Benedict XV, Charles tried to reascend the throne of Hungary. Perhaps he would then be ableas was hoped by the Holy Fatherto form a new federation of Catholic States in central Europe. On March 25, 1921, Charles left Switzerland and went to Hungary in secret. Admiral Horthy, Head of State since 1920, called himself a regent and claimed loyalty to his king. Of Calvinist origins, in reality he was an atheist and hated the Hapsburgs' Catholic tradition. In Budapest, on Easter Sunday, Charles was received by Horthy, who equivocated, made up a thousand excuses, and did everything he could to get foreign powers to block the restoration of the monarchy. Charles, meanwhile, had fallen ill. His supporters offered to retake power by force, but, to avoid bloodshed he refused. He was taken manu militari by a special train back to Switzerland.
A noble and firm refusal
The countries of the Entente deemed the Hapsburgs undesirable and took the family's expulsion into their own hands. On October 31, Charles and Zita were put on a British ship sailing down the Danube to the Black Sea. From there, a Romanian ship took them to Constantinople. They did not know what would happen to their children, who remained in Switzerland. When the captain of the ship admitted to him that there was talk of transferring him to Ascension, a small remote island in the middle of the south Atlantic, Charles trembled and cried, «But then we could never see the children again!» However, he soon smiled and said in a calm voice again, «How faint-hearted I am! They can only send us to the place chosen by God.» On November 19, 1921, the ship reached Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira, which would bethe English had decidedthe deposed emperor's place of exile. An annual allowance had been arranged by the Allied Nations for the exile's needs, but it would never be paid. Charles was thought to be rich, but he was poor. He was thus forced to look for a house that was not too expensive. He chose the villa Quinta, at an altitude of 600 meters, but this choice would prove unfortunatein the winter, the climate there was unhealthy because of fog. On February 2, 1922, after many difficulties, Zita was able to bring her children to Madeira.
«The Lord will do what He wills»
On March 9, the emperor caught cold after having walked from Funchal to his villa. On the 17th, his temperature reached 39°C (102°F) and he was coughing. The 21st, he had a 40°C (104°F) fever and bronchitis, which developed into lung congestion. Charles was not yet 35 years old, but he was morally and physically weakened by the heavy trials of the years that had just passed. Over the following days, the pneumonia worsened. The emperor's last days were those of a saint. Despite his extreme fatigue, he heard Mass celebrated daily in his room. On March 27, he asked to receive Extreme Unction and made a general confession with complete lucidity. He had his eldest son, Otto, only nine years old, brought to him: «I want him to be a witness. This will be an example for his whole lifehe needs to know what a king, a Catholic, a man, must do in such a situation.» On the 29th, Charles suffered two heart attacks. In private, he confided, «Isn't it wonderful to have unlimited confidence in the Sacred Heart? Without it, my situation would be unbearable.» A bit later, he said, «I must suffer much, so that my peoples can come together again.» On Saturday April 1st, he wanted to pray, but his nurse advised him to sleep. He replied, «I have to pray so much!» Over the morning, his condition became hopeless. He was able to receive Holy Communion in viaticum. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the room of the dying man, who murmured, «I offer my life in sacrifice for my people,» then «My Savior, may Your will be done!» At 12:25, after having said, «Jesus, Mary, Joseph,» he breathed his last. The emperor-king left behind a widow who was expecting their eighth child.
Despite the apparent failure of his life, Charles I gave an admirable testimony of conforming to Divine Providence in adversity. This is why the Church has offered him as an example through beatification. This passage from the book of Wisdom can be applied to him: But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace... Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself (Wis. 3:1-5). «From the beginning, the Emperor Charles conceived of his office as a holy service to his people. His chief concern was to follow the Christian vocation to holiness also in his political actions. ... May he be an example for all of us, especially for those who have political responsibilities in Europe today!» (John Paul II).