An Italian Catholic activist and journalist who was declared a Righteous Gentile for saving Jewish lives during World War II has formally been put on the road to sainthood by the Roman Catholic church.
Odoardo Focherini was beatified – the step before sainthood – at a ceremony Saturday in his hometown of Carpi, near Modena in northern Italy.
Declared a martyr by the church, Focherini is believed to be the first Righteous Gentile, and the first person to be killed for saving Jews, to be beatified.
Born in 1907, Focherini saved about 100 Jewish during World War II by establishing a rescue network and arranging false papers to help them flee to Switzerland. He was arrested in March 1944 and sent to a series of Nazi camps. He died at the camp at Hersbruck, Germany, in December 1944.
Yad Vashem recognized him and a parish priest who helped him as Righteous Among the Nations in 1969.
Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree attesting to Focherini’s martyrdom in 2012.
Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in a statement that Focherini’s memory “will also continue to be a source of inspiration for future generations.”
In a statement, the Rome office of the American Jewish Committee said Focherini “acted selflessly in accordance with the highest moral principles shared by our two fraternal religions. This act will create yet another bond between Christians and Jews, further enriching our deepening dialogue. May the recognition and memory of Odoardo Focherini’s profound faith and humanity be a blessing to all the world’s peoples.”