The Catholic Church beatified on Sunday a Polish family of nine, including a newborn baby, who died at the hands of Nazi Germans during World War II for sheltering a Jewish family from the Holocaust.
The beatification service for Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children was held in the southeastern Polish town of Markowa where they died in March 1944 at the hands of German military police.
Cardinal Marcello Semeraro read a letter from Pope Francis during a mass attended by Poland’s President and Prime Minister, among others.
“We authorise that from now on the venerable Servants of God, Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, spouses and their seven children... (who) fearlessly sacrificed their lives for the sake of love for their brothers and welcomed into their home those who suffered persecution, be given the title of blessed,” the Pope wrote.
After the announcement of the beatification, a painting of the family was unveiled and a reliquary containing their remains was brought to the centre of the stage.
Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican media have noted that it is the first time that an entire family has been honoured together in this manner.
Speaking at the Vatican, Pope Francis described the Polish family as a “ray of light” in the darkness of World War II and said they should serve as a model for others to follow.
He initiated a round of applause for them from pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square to hear his Angelus message.
Polish President Andrzej Duda thanked the Catholic church for the beatification on behalf of the nation.
“Thank you for showing the historical truth about that time, about the fate of Poles and Jews on this land under German occupation, who all wanted to survive and yet did not shrink from such ultimate acts of brotherhood and mercy,” he said.