This is the day of his marriage to HRH Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, and was, for that reason, chosen by Pope John Paul II at the beatification.
This saintly exemplar of Christian virtue, chivalry, devotion and holiness was the last Hapsburg Emperor, the successor of the Holy Roman Emperor who was the first knight and lay leader of all Christendom for 1,000 years with the solemn blessing of the Supreme Pontiff and Holy Church.
He was the first political leader in Europe to introduce a Ministry of Social Assistance for the relief of the poor and unemployed. He based this directly upon the teachings of Pope Leo XII in his Encyclical, Rerum Novarum, on the condition of the working classes.
He died in 1922 at the early age of 34, in absolute poverty with his wife, Her Imperial Majesty Empress Zita, and 7 children, exiled from their homeland to the island of Madeira. Madeira Island has constant sunshine on the coast but up the mountain, where the imperial family lived, was often shrouded in close, dense, mist straight off the Atlantic which was unhealthy for the sick
The exiled Emperor wanted to get toys for presents for his children but, having no money, he always had to walk down the mountain to Funchal and there barter away a few items in exchange for others.
Walking back he caught a chill which later developed into double pneumonia. The doctor was called and the Empress Zita's worst fears were realised. The Emperor Charles, the exiled ruler of the great Catholic Empire, was dying, although still a young man.
He died with the Holy Name of Jesus on his lips.
So poor were the family that the Empress Zita had to ask a peasant whom the Emperor had given some clothes, to return them so that the Blessed Emperor could have some clothes to be decently buried in.
Everything had been taken from the imperial family and from the Blessed Emperor. All had been relinquished. He died with nothing left but himself to take to his Creatorand his family to be left in the hands of God.
50 years later in 1972, his grave was opened and his body found to be incorrupt. The Emperor's youngest son, the Archduke Rudolf of Austria, witnessed this and saw his own father incorrupt.
Who can imagine what it must be like to see one's own father incorrupt?
His Holiness, Pope St Pius X, had granted a private audience to Karl’s fiancée, HRH Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, a short time before their wedding, and the saintly Pope had prophesied that he would one day become Emperor. Zita corrected the Pope reminding him that Charles was only 2nd in line after HIRH the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Nevertheless, the holy Pope insisted that it would be so and told her that when he was Emperor they must both work zealously for peace. Thus St Pius X also indirectly predicted the First World War.
Then this great Pope told her a remarkable thing. He told her to rejoice “because he saw Charles to be Heaven’s reward to Austria for all her faithfulness to Pope and Church.”
The devotion of the Blessed Emperor is clearly demonstrated in the acta of the Beatification process. The following excerpt from The Religious Life of Emperor Karl: A Study of the Documents for the Beatification Process by Giovanna Brizi, gives a very edifying summary:
"He drew the strength to endure all of these trials from incessant prayer and continual communion with God, which he fostered by daily participation in Holy Mass, Eucharistic worship, and adoration of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. He went to confession every eight days and took the observance of Sundays and Lent very seriously. He loved the Psalms, two of which he prayed daily, the “Miserere” and Psalm 90. (62)
He was especially devoted to the Mother of God and frequently prayed the rosary, a devotion he also practised with his family. He reverently wore the scapular according to the tradition of the confraternity to which he belonged, and in which he also enrolled all of his children. In honour of the Virgin, the children were given the middle name of Maria, and up to the age of three were only permitted to wear clothes in the colours of the Madonna to whom they had been dedicated. (63)
He also attached a medal of the Mother of God to his children’s cradle. (64)
He often meditated on the Stations of the Cross in the house chapel, alone. (65)
Before making any important decision the Servant of God would withdraw to the chapel by himself to weigh his decision before the Sanctum Sanctorum and to 'pray about it', as he used to say. (66)
He also deeply adored the Holy Spirit. During the peace negotiations he prayed the Veni Creator daily after Holy Mass. And after the peace accord he decided to keep up this beautiful habit, since he was convinced that the world needed enlightenment from above more than ever. (67)
On 2 October 1918, at his son Otto’s First Communion he dedicated his entire family to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and included all nations of the monarchy in this act. The prayer of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was prayed in the family chapel on every first Friday of the month, and the litany and the Little Office of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were among his favourite prayers. (68)
Corpus Christi Day was strictly observed every year, which is why Bishop Fischer-Colbry also called him 'the Eucharistic Emperor'. (69)
He also especially revered St Michael the Archangel, whom he declared patron saint of his imperial army. His children were taught to pray to their guardian angels daily. He much revered St. Joseph, as well, which is why 'Joseph' was added to his children’s middle name of 'Maria'.
He fervently supported the cause of Father (now Blessed) Marco d’Aviano’s beatification; and he honoured Brother Konrad of Parzham who had already been canonized at this time, carrying a relic of this saint with him up until his fatal sickness. The canonized parish priest Maaß von Fließ in the Tyrol and, naturally, the various patron saints of his multiple countries and St Charles Borromeo were also objects of his special devotion. (70)
He never began any meal without saying grace, and wherever he was he prayed the Angelus at noon.
He valued indulgences and strove to obtain them. For example, he fervently and joyfully obtained the Porziuncula Indulgence at Santa Maria degli Angeli at Assisi, year after year. He also highly revered his Cross for a Happy Death, to which a Plenary Indulgence for the Hour of Death had been granted and which he always carried on himself. (71)"
62 Summ. test., p. 567, § 748, Empress Zita.
63 Summ. test., p. 148, § 226; Anna Francesca Maria Lamich.
64 Summ. test., p. 214, Archduchess Elisabeth Charlotte.
65 Summ. test., p. 511, ad 41, Baron Karl Werkmann von Hohensalzburg.
66 Summ. test., p. 558, § 740, Empress Zita.
67 Summ. test., p. 555, Empress Zita.
68 Summ. test., p. 556, Empress Zita.
69 Summ. test., p. 556, Empress Zita.
70 Summ. test., pp. 566-567, Empress Zita
71 Summ. test., p. 579, § 49.
A few days after his coronation, Karl automatically became commander-in-chief of all his armed forces. In this capacity, too, he frequently visited the front, advancing all the way to the foremost lines and participating in many battles, where he exhibited exemplary courage and calm in the midst of exploding enemy artillery fire. The sight of the gruesome slaughter, however, brought him into sharp conflict with moral and religious principles that were so deeply engrained in him. A few hours after the eleventh battle at the Isonzo River, court photographer Schuhmann saw him crying at the sight of charred and disfigured corpses. He heard him say, “No one can justify this before God. I will put an end to it as soon as possible”.
As Emperor he had a growing conviction that he had to take all possible diplomatic routes to achieve peace; he thought so despite his German allies who accused him of cowardice because they knew only one kind of peace, “victorious peace.”
In the meantime, he made use of all his powers to at least reduce the cruelty of the war; he firmly opposed the use of poisonous gas on the eastern front; he was immovable in his decision not to shell Italian towns; he fought against the use of submarines which were to attack enemy towns along the Adriatic coast, especially Venice, and later brought Americans into the war; and all this despite the mockery, fury and accusations coming from his German ally. To him, the civilian population was absolutely inviolable.
He had ever the keenest concern for the care of the ordinary soldier.
At the same time he took up with great fervour Fr Wilhelm Schmidt’s idea to establish “soldiers’ homes” at all fronts, in order to keep the troops’ morale high. Everyone was to have access to them, should be at home, be able to find distractions from war, and buy affordable treats. Unobjectionable newspapers and magazines, books and games were to be found there as well. Thus, the soldiers were to be kept from spending their time with less uplifting distractions, which would be detrimental to them physically and spiritually.
General Bardoff for instance felt compelled to challenge the Emperor’s sweeping measures against “immoral practices” (i.e. brothels) in the armed forces, because the high-ranking officers thought them to “make sense from a hygienic perspective”. The Emperor personally saw to the distribution of rosaries among the soldiers and issued a rescript calling for Holy Mass and sermons to be said in the soldiers’ quarters not just on Sundays and Holidays, but also every day of the week.
As far as possible he strove to improve and make more humane the lot of prisoners of war; he participated in initiatives between Austria-Hungary, Russia and Italy to exchange prisoners. He personally verified that prisoners were treated well in the camps, supported those returning to their homes as best he could, and opposed the repression of remnant populations in enemy territory.
The fiercest opposition arose to his outlawing of duelling, evidently a very widespread custom that proved difficult to root out. He was warned that his reputation with the Army would suffer if he banned it but ban it the Blessed Emperor did for, as he said, duelling is a sin and condemned by the Church.
He expressed horror at the German plan to send Lenin by train from Zurich to start revolution in Russia and opposed it, with immense foresight, telling the Germans that revolution did not confine itself to national borders and was a bacillus that would affect the world, not just Russia. The Germans pressed ahead so Charles forbade any such train to pass through any of the imperial lands.
before attempting to regain his throne in Hungary in 1919
His people called him the “Peace Emperor” for his efforts to obtain peace which were cruelly rebuffed by the Entente leaders, almost all secularist anti-Catholics and Freemasons, like France’s Alexandre Ribot, Italy’s Baron Sydney Sonnino and Britain’s David Lloyd-George.
These wicked old men refused to listen to the compassionate charity and mercy of the 29-year old “Peace Emperor” in 1916 and so ensured that millions would die in the slaughter of Passchendaele and the trenches, and Communism would be victorious in Russia and, later, Nazism in Germany.
O Servant of God, Emperor Charles, pray for the Christian West,
- the evening land upon which the Sun sets!