ROME—Pope Francis on Sunday both prayed for Peru, which has been devastated by the worst floods the country has seen in 20 years, and also recalled the beatification of an Italian layman who refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Adolph Hitler during World War II.
“I want to assure my closeness to the dear people of Peru, hit hard by devastating floods,” Francis said after the weekly Angelus prayer. “I pray for the victims and for those engaged in relief operations.”
According to Peruvian Prime Minister Fernando Zavala, 72 people have been killed, with over half a million people losing their homes due to the intense rains, overflowing rivers, mudslides and flooding.
The highly unusual rains follow a series of storms that have struck hard along Peru’s northern coast, with voracious waters inundating hospitals and many public buildings, including schools.
Home to a section of the Amazon rainforest and Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan city high in the Andes mountains, the country is expecting similar weather conditions for the next two weeks, with the disaster already affecting half of the country.
Small villages have been left isolated, and the longer the situation persists, the grimmer the outlook. Some 800 towns have already declared a state of emergency.
After referring to the dire situation of Peru, Pope Francis then hailed the beatification, the final step before sainthood, of Josef Mayr-Nusser, which took place on Saturday in the Italian city of Bolzano.
“On account of his great moral and spiritual stature, he’s a model for the lay faithful, especially for dads,” Francis told the estimated 40,000 people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus prayer on a cloudy Roman day at noon.
On March 19, when the Catholic Church marks the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Italians also celebrate Father’s Day. As the pope noted, since the feast is on a Sunday this year, Joseph will be celebrated on Monday.
The pope remembered Mayr-Nusser as a layman martyred because he refused to join the Nazi party, as a result of his fidelity to the Christian Gospel.
Mayr-Nusser was sentenced to death in 1944, after refusing to take the so-called “Hitler oath” after he was drafted into the German army. He was sentenced to death for it, and died Feb. 24, 1945, on the way to Dachau concentration camp.
The martyr is quoted to have said: “I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.”
Sometime during the war, his father was also killed on the front lines of the Second World War.