The Vatican has made the unprecedented move of beatifying an entire Polish family for their “gesture of hospitality and care” in sheltering Jewish people during the Second World War.
The family-of-nine — a married couple and their small children — were murdered by the Nazis in 1944 after they were apparently betrayed.
Speaking during a Mass in the village of Markowa, in southeastern Poland, papal envoy Cardinal Marcello Semeraro read out the Latin formula of the beatification of the Ulma family signed last month by Pope Francis.
Cardinal Semeraro noted that for their “gesture of hospitality and care, of mercy” the Ulmas “paid the highest price of martyrdom”.
A contemporary painting representing Jozef and a pregnant Wiktoria Ulma with their children was revealed near the altar, and a procession brought relics taken from their grave to the altar.
It is the first time that an entire family has been beatified.
Speaking to the public from a window in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Pope Francis said the Ulmas “represented a ray of light in the darkness” of the war and should be a model for everyone in “doing good and in the service of those in need”.
The pope then invited the crowd below to applaud the family, and he clapped his hands.
Those gathered in Markowa watched Francis’ address on giant screens placed by the altar.
Last year, Francis pronounced the deeply Catholic Ulma family, including the child that Wiktoria Ulma was pregnant with, martyrs for the faith.
The Ulmas were killed at home by German Nazi troops and by Nazi-controlled local police in the early hours of March 24 1944, together with the eight Jews they were hiding at their home, after they were apparently betrayed.
Jozef Ulma, 44, was a farmer, Catholic activist and amateur photographer who documented family and village life. He lived with his 31-year-old wife Wiktoria; their daughters Stanislawa, seven; Barbara, six; Maria, 18 months; and sons Wladyslaw, five; Franciszek, three; and Antoni, two.
With them were killed 70-year-old Saul Goldman with his sons Baruch, Mechel, Joachim and Mojzesz, along with Golda Grunfeld and her sister Lea Didner with her young daughter Reszla, according to Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, which has documented the Ulmas’ story.
Polish president Andrzej Duda along with the ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, as well as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, attended the celebration in Markowa, and thousands of pilgrims came from across Poland to take part.
In Poland, the Ulma family is a symbol of the bravery of thousands of Poles who took the utmost risk while helping Jews.
By the occupying Nazis’ decree, any assistance to Jews was punished with summary execution.
Poland was the first country to be invaded by Nazi Germany, on September 1 1939. Some six million of its citizens were killed during the war, half of them Jews.