BUDAPEST, Hungary – Thousands of faithful on Sunday attended the beatification of a Hungarian nun who helped save the lives of dozens of Jews during World War II.
The beatification proclamation for Sara Salkahazi, issued by Pope Benedict XVI, was read out by Cardinal Peter Erdo, Hungary's Primate and Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, during a Mass held outside St. Stephen's Basilica.
"She was willing to assume risks for the persecuted ... in days of great fear," Erdo said. "Her martyrdom is still topical ... and presents the foundations of our humanity."
Salkahazi was killed by the Arrow Cross — the Hungarian allies of the Nazis — on Dec. 27, 1944, for hiding Jews in a Budapest building used by her religious order, the Sisters of Social Service.
Salkahazi was taken along with several other occupants of the home and shot, their bodies falling into the Danube River and never recovered. Details of her death were revealed only in the 1967 trial of some Arrow Cross henchmen.
The Sisters of Social Service are credited with saving the lives of some 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust, of whom around 100 were aided by Salkahazi herself.
People beatified by the Roman Catholic Church are given the title of "Blessed" and are considered to be able to intercede on behalf of those who pray in their name. Beatification is sometimes the first step to sainthood.
Salkahazi was born May 11, 1899, into a middle-class family in the city of Kassa, at the time in Hungary and now known as Kosice and part of Slovakia.
She was already in her late 20s when she discovered her religious vocation. Earlier, she had been engaged to marry and worked as a bookbinder, journalist and newspaper editor.
She is the first Hungarian to be beatified who is not royalty or a member of the aristocracy.
"I know from personal experience ... how dangerous and heroic it was in those times to help Jews and save them from death," Rabbi Jozsef Schweitzer said during the Mass attended by Parliamentary Speaker Katalin Szili and former President Ferenc Madl. "Originating in her faith, she kept the commandment of love until death."
The beatification was the first in Hungary since 1083, when Hungary's first king, St. Stephen, was beatified along with his son, St. Imre, and St. Gellert, an Italian bishop who had a key role in converting Hungarians to Christianity.
Changes introduced by Pope Benedict XVI again allow beatification rites to be held around the world, instead of just in the Vatican, as was the norm for centuries.
Salkahazi's deeds were recognized in 1972 by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, at the behest of the daughter of one of the Jewish women killed with her.
Some 550,000 Jews and 50,000 Roma died during the Holocaust in Hungary. Historians say one-third of all the victims killed by the Nazis in the Auschwitz concentration camp were Hungarian.