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Archbishop Werner Thissen: Like Grains of Wheat

Sermon on the 10th of November, 2005 in Hamburg


Dear Sisters and Brothers, I welcome you with all my heart, also on behalf of my concelebrants to this celebration of the Eucharist which ends in the Sessio Ultima in the Beatification Process of the Lübeck Martyrs. We deliberately kept the congregation for this celebration small. Today is an important day on the road to beatification. But the road is long. And all of you here are taking part, in one way or another.

It is with a profound sense of importance that we combine this last session of the diocesan process of beatification with divine service. In divine service we celebrate the presence of the Living God. In the Beatification Process we declare: The lives and deaths of the Lübeck Martyrs have not disappeared into the abyss of the past, the lives and deaths of the Lübeck Martyrs have been raised, raised blissfully into the everlasting presence of God. By commemorating the Martyrs we venerate the ever present salvation of God. We ask for his mercy in the Kyrie.


Sisters and Brothers, “If the grain of wheat does not fall to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it yields a rich harvest”. Our Lübeck Martyrs were like grains of wheat. They have yielded a rich harvest. Many a man has ben sustained by them and in turn yielded fruit.

In order to keep the memory of the Martyrs alive in the future, we have collected everything that had anything to do with their lives and deaths. You see the results here: At the end of this service I shall hand over everything to Dr. Ambrosi, who in turn will pass it on to the relevant Roman Congregation. All submissions will be examined there. The Church does not make light work of such proceedings. Therefore certain rules have to be followed. You shall see for yourself, when documentation, sealing and signing take place later. Then the spiritual and the secular are combined. The spiritual, because it concerns the Witness of faith by the Martyrs and the secular, because we have to apply human standards as well. Both make it clear: The ecclesiastical event must be in the Spirit of God. But it simultaneously occurs guided by the limitations of human existence.

It became clear already at the outset: Two dioceses are acting together. The Diocese of Osnabrück and the Archdiocese of Hamburg. It is important therefore that the Diocese of Osnabrück is represented by the high-ranking Cathedral Chapter. I know that the Bishop of Osnabrück would have loved to be here. But he explained to me that obligations made it impossible. He’ll be with us in spirit. The clergymen were ordained to the priesthood in Osnabrück Cathedral. They performed their missions in Lübeck. In Hamburg they were murdered. They form an important spiritual clasp between our dioceses.

But there is another important spiritual clasp. Already at the beginning of this process we were of one mind with the Lutheran Church: Even if both our Churches, each in her way in accordance with tradition, commemorate the martyrs, it will always be a common remembrance. The Lutheran Pastor and the three Chaplains form an important spiritual clasp between our two denominations. A clasp, which is a strong signal that we belong together and must grow together even more. Thus, it is a beautiful sign that relatives of Pastor Stelbrink are here with us today.

What do you think of when you hear: Lübeck? Many will answer: Thomas Mann. But Thomas Mann, on his part, also thought of the Lübeck Martyrs. In his contribution to the publication with the title “Last Letters of those sentenced to death 1939-1945”, Thomas Mann writes: The greatest witness to the Gift of Christian-Catholic Faith is demonstrated by the German Chaplain Hermann in the letter to his parents, just before his execution: “If you ask me how I feel, all I can say is: Firstly, I am happily moved, secondly full of expectation! All the pain and earthly lament come to an end today – and ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”. What comfort, what wonderful strength emanates from the belief in Christ, who has gone to his death before us! I have believed in Him, and even more so today and I shall not come to naught ... What could therefore happen to a child of God, of what should I be afraid? ... You see, the bands of love that bind us together won’t be severed by death. You will think of me in your prayers and that I shall be with you for all time, for me who no longer am confined by timely or spatial restraints’”.

What a legacy! There are similar testimonials of other martyrs. That must not be forgotten. Not in Lübeck. Not in the Archdiocese of Hamburg or the Diocese of Osnabrück. Not in Germany. And not in the whole world. The presence here of Lübeckers at this ceremony together with the Mayor and our Prior at the helm, shows that the town of Lübeck is intend on doing everything to keep the legacy of the Lübeck Martyrs alive.

“I shall always be with you”, so writes Chaplain Lange. Today is the anniversary of his death and that of his comrades. Tonight we shall gather in the Herz Jesu Church in Lübeck at the hour of their deaths. Now, in the morning of the day of their deaths, we take steps, we think appropriate, to keep the remembrance of the Martyrs alive. Separation between the living and the dead is but thin. The ceremony of the Eucharist will make the wall that separates a wall that unites.




Prelude and Sermon by Archbishop Werner Thissen on the occasion of the „Sessio Ultima“, the last session on the part of the diocesan proceedings for the Process of Beatification on the 10th of November, 2005, in the Chapel of St. Ansgar in Hamburg.