Thursday, 8 March 2012

Converted French Assassin on the road to Beatification

''In five hours, I will see Jesus'' - last phrase of Jacques Fesch in his diary, before being guillotined. In the history of the Catholic Church one can only find one other precedent of someone condemned to the death that is converted and afterwards arrives to be honored at the altar: The good thief crucified with Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago.
In the fullness of the 21st century, this history has great chances to repeat itself. This is the process of beatification of the young Frenchman Jacques Fesch, who was guillotined in 1957 for killing a policeman and wounding another during a robbery. His radical conversion happened in prison in the months before his death at 27 years old.
This unique precedent explains the caution with which the case of the young man was presented to diocesan investigation in 1987. Then the Archbishop of Parish, Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger guided an elaborate reflection on the life of Fesch and obtained the authorization of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to open formally the cause of beatification in 1993-the process has just concluded its diocesan phase and continues now in Rome.
Declaring someone holy does not signify for the Church that one should admire the merits of this person, but it provides an example of conversion of someone that, independently of his human walk, was capable of hearing the voice of God and repent. Not having sinned so grave as to impede the man from arriving with God that is the one who offers him salvation,” said Cardinal Jean when he opened the investigation. “I hope that one day, I will venerate him as a figure of holiness” he added
The Story
The youth was born on April 6, 1930 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He was the son of a rich Belgian banker, artist and atheist, distant from his son and unfaithful to his wife from which he requested a divorce. Jacques was educated in the Catholic religion, but abandoned the faith at 17 years old. At 21 he civilly married a fiancé, who was already pregnant. He got a job at the bank, during which time he had the life of a playboy. However, he abandoned his wife and daughter and had a son with another woman. The crime committed by Jacques happened on the 24th of February 1954, when he tried to rob the money changer Alexandre Sylberstein, with the objective of financing the purchase of a boat that would bring him far to the Pacific Ocean.  Syberstein was injured but was able to sound the burglar alarm. The young Fesch fled, but lost his glasses along the route. During his run, Fesch shot and killed a police officer, Jean Vergne, who was pursuing him. Minutes later he was arrested. Assasinating a police officer was an atrocious crime and public opinion inflamed through the stories in the press, manifested a decision in support of his execution. The Court of Paris condemned him to death April 6, 1957.
The Conversion
Shortly after his imprisonment, Jacques was indifferent to his situation and ridiculed the Catholic faith of his lawyer. However, after a year, the young assassin experienced a profound conversion and repented profoundly of his crime. He accepted his punishment and reconciled himself with his wife the night before his execution. The last thing he wrote in his diary was: “In five hours, I will see Jesus.” He was guillotined on the first of October 1957. After his death, his wife and daughter honored his memory as an example of redemption. At first, such recognition was not appreciated by the public, but the work of one Carmelite nun, Sister Véronique, and Father Augustin-Michel Lemonnier, with the family, published the spiritual diary that Jacques wrote in prison, pages that will serve and have served as inspiration for many persons.

Controversial Cause
The case of Jacques was the subject of controversy among those that thought his crimes made him unworthy as a model of being followed and between those who emphasized the hope of his final conversion. “Beatifying Jacques Fesch did not signify moral rehabilitation, nor did it give him a certificate of good conduct or a prize as in the Legion of Honor. His converion was of a spiritual order. Beatifying Jacques Fesch will be to recognize that the Christian community can pray to someone that is at the side of Jesus,” wrote the theologian André Manaranche in response to the debate. On the 2nd of December 2009, the Vicar General of His Holiness for Vatican City, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, accompanied the sister of Fesch, Monique, during a visit to Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican. Monique confided to the Pope: “My brother and I understand greatly. when he was eight years of age, I was his godmother for baptism and when he was in prison, I closely followed his extraoridinary conversion. Along with his biographer Ruggiero Francavilla, Monique showed the Pope some letters written by Jacques when he was in prison. In the opportunity, Cardinal Comastri said to the Journal L´Osservatore Romano That when he held the post of chaplain of the Regina Coeli Prison, a prisoner presented him the fascinating story of Fesch. “It is a unique testimony: Young man descended from a rich family, becomes assasin and is condemned to death. He was 27 years old. In the prison he lives a radical  dazzling conversion, reaching the highest levels of spirituality,” he said.
Leonardo Meira
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