Titus Brandsma, Dutch priest and journalist, now a saint

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Titus Brandsma, O.Carm., was a Dutch Carmelite friar, Catholic priest and professor of philosophy. Brandsma was vehemently opposed to Nazi ideology and spoke out against it many times before the Second World War. He was imprisoned in the infamous Dachau concentration camp, where he died.. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Titus Brandsma, O.Carm., was a Dutch Carmelite friar, Catholic priest and professor of philosophy. Brandsma was vehemently opposed to Nazi ideology and spoke out against it many times before the Second World War. He was imprisoned in the infamous Dachau concentration camp, where he died.. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Pope Francis canonized a Dutch journalist into sainthood this Sunday (May 15). He was Titus Brandsma: a “martyr of press freedom.”

Born as Anno Sjoerd Brandsma on February 23, 1881, he was a staunch critic of Nazism and antisemitic policies during Germany’s invasion of Netherlands in World War II. He would later be killed by lethal injection in the Dachau concentration camp in 1942. This was after being arrested for urging 14 Dutch editors to refuse publishing Nazi propaganda, at the behest of the then-archbishop of Utrecht Johannes de Jong.

Despite also being a Carmelite priest and a theologian, Brandsma is more remembered for his journalism. Prior to his death, Brandsma revitalized the newspaper De Stad Oss (roughly “The City of Oss” in English) during his four year service as their editor-in-chief. According to the Carmelites of Australia and Timor-Leste in their 2018 newsletter, Brandsma regularly wrote about Mother Mary for the CarmelRozen magazine.

According to Br. Lester Hallig, O.Carm., the provincial hagiographer of the Order of Carmelites - Province of St. Titus Brandsma (Philippines), the Dutch Carmelite was also the spiritual adviser for the Union of Catholic Journalists.

Hallig described the canonization as “noteworthy” due to Brandsma’s fight “for the freedom of education and of the press.”

“The Carmelites waited 37 years for this canonization (a comparably short waiting time in-between beatification and canonization, really) and the fact that Titus is raised to the honors of the altar in a time quite similar to his, makes it all the more special. Indeed his canonization could not have come at a more opportune time when propaganda, fake news, and disinformation are being peddled and even normalized,” Hallig told Yahoo! Philippines.

Recalling how Brandsma was “used for medical experimentation” before being killed in the camp, Hallig praised the journalist for sticking to his Christian beliefs.

“He stood by his beliefs and by what the Gospels taught, even if [it is in] doing so would [it] lead him to his death. Everybody’s not expected to die the way he did, but each is certainly called to holiness, that no matter what happens, it is this commitment to, indeed, Christ Himself, that elevates one’s life to one that is closer to our Lord,” he continued.

He also remembered a quote by Brandsma: “He who wants to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come in conflict with it.”

In honoring Brandsma, the biennial Titus Brandsma Awards were named after him. According to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) last 2019, these are awarded to journalists and media professionals who embody “Brandsma’s principles.” Filipino recipients from 2019 include broadcaster Christian Esguerra, veteran journalist Ed Lingao, and the late environmental secretary Gina Lopez among others.

A saint by any other name

For a person to be declared a saint, a candidate (at least five years after their death) must be proven to have lived a life of service to God. There must be one verified miracle that took place after praying to the candidate for them to be beatified and be given the title of “Blessed.” It would take two miracles in total (one in the case of martyrs) for a person to be canonized.

Brandsma was first beatified by St. Pope John Paul II in 1985 even without a miracle attributed to him. This would be followed by a case involving Florida-based Fr. Michael Driscoll, O. Carma, who attributed his recovery from Stage 4 skin cancer to applying a piece of Brandsma’s black suit to his head. An event that Pope Francis would recognize as a miracle.

For his actions, about 60 Catholic journalists petitioned for Brandsma to be named the patron saint of journalism. Although St. Francis de Sales is already recognized as one, the petitioners believed that Brandsma was more fitting for the title, due to him being a journalist.

“In word and deed, he opposed the language of hatred and division that was becoming common at the time. In his view, what we now describe as ‘fake news’ was not to be tolerated in the Catholic press; he successfully argued for an episcopal ban on the printing of National Socialist propaganda in Catholic newspapers,” the petitioners wrote.

They added that Brandsma embodied how a journalist should work.

“We, Catholic journalists, recognize in Titus Brandsma a professional peer and fellow believer of considerable standing. Someone who shared the deeper mission that should drive journalism in modern times: a search for truth and veracity, the promotion of peace and dialogue between people,” they emphasized.

Alongside Brandsma were nine newly-declared saints last Sunday, said to be the first canonization mass since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They include Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary founder Marie Rivier, Indian “anti-Caste champion” Devasahayam Pillai, and French soldier turned explorer Charles de Foucald among others.

Hallig mentioned that Brandsma now joins the ranks of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who “operated a radio station and printed a daily Catholic newspaper” also during World War II.

Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes-in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.

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