“Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5)
On June 15, over five thousand spectators gathered in Carpi, Italy’s Piazza of the Martyrs to beatify Odoardo Focherini, a man who worked throughout the Holocaust to save Jews until he himself was killed by the Nazis.
Beatification is the formal process of recognition by the Catholic Church of an individual’s admittance to heaven and is the third of four stages in the process of canonizing someone as a saint. The individual is referred to as Blessed, and is considered to have the capacity to intercede with heaven on behalf of living supplicants. In accordance with changes to the beatification process enacted by the previous pope, Benedict XVI, the rite was held, not at the Vatican, but in Focherini’s hometown. It was celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in representation of Pope Francis, and Monsignor Francesco Cavina, Bishop of Carpi.
Focherini was born and raised in Carpi. He married Maria Marchesi and they had 7 children, all of whom were in attendance at his beatification. He was active in the Catholic community, involved in a variety of religious and charitable organisations. In WWII, he opposed the brutal Nazi regime, acting to save over one hundred Jews by supplying them with jobs, false papers, and even smuggling them to Switzerland. He was arrested in 1944 by the Nazis and taken eventually to Hersbruck concentration camp, where he perished.
According to Focherini’s grandson, Francesco Manicardi, “Odoardo’s interior life consisted in a constant dedication to others…When the ‘other’ that he always helped came in the form of Jewish families trying to escape deportation, the ‘samaritan’ Odoardo didn’t hesitate to open his heart to them, even in the face of immense risks.”
Focherini’s wife supported his choice, Manicardi recalls, saying, “we and our children are safe, the Jews are not: go and help them.” He worked along with a priest, don Datne Sala, to create an escape network for Jews. He personally wrote their false papers and guided them to Switzerland.
About the beatification, Manicardi said, “For the children of Odoardo it was a moment of great emotion, a moment long awaited and one that also gave credit to Odoardo’s wife, Maria Marchesi, a woman comparable to her husband in faith and generosity.”
Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, as well as the families of the Jews he saved, were in attendance. He was recognised as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in 1969.