Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Humanitarian Award to be named after Ireland’s ‘Vatican Pimpernel’

An Irish priest in the Vatican who established a network that saved over 6,500 Jews and allied army personnel during the Second World War is finally to be honored in his native land.

In fact the charismatic Mgr Hugh O’Flaherty, dubbed the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, has already won tributes in Britain, the US and Italy but never in Ireland.

This is set to change however, when next month, he will be posthumously awarded the Killarney International Humanitarian Award, which from next year will bear his name.

“We hope it will grow in momentum every year,” Deirdre Waldron, communications officer for the event, told ciNews. “The award will be made to major international figures each year.”

The memorial weekend for Mgr Hugh O’Flaherty, will take place from Friday 14th November until Sunday 16th November in Killarney. A host of events will recall the brave man, who risked his life hundreds of times, to save others.

These will include readings from the book, The Vatican Pimpernel, by its author Brian Fleming, the naming of a road after him in Killarney, a display of his books, a showing of the Hollywood film, The Scarlet and the Black, and a commemorative Mass, celebrated by Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, on Sunday.

The Humanitarian Award Ceremony will take place on Saturday evening, 15th November.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty grew up in Killarney, where his father was the steward of the old Killarney Golf Club when it was located in Deerpark. Hugh had a vocation for the priesthood and as a young seminarian he was posted to Rome in 1922, the year Mussolini came to power in Italy. He earned a degree in theology in just one year while studying in Rome, was ordained in 1925 and continued his studies for a further two years, earning doctorates in divinity, canon law and philosophy.

He was a skilled diplomat and served the Vatican in Egypt, Haiti, San Domingo and Czechoslovakia. After a period of 4 years he was recalled to Rome and was appointed to the Holy Office.

It was during this time at the Vatican, during the Second World War, that Mgr O’Flaherty excelled himself. He was a great golfer, held in great esteem by the high social set in Rome, and so, using his contacts, he was able to set up a network of safe houses throughout Rome and surrounds. He hid people in danger from the Nazis in monasteries and convents, in his old college and in his own residence. Using his many connections, he smuggled them out of Italy.

He was a master of disguise, and although involved in many risky escape missions, he was never captured. He saved an estimated 6,500 people including members of the Jewish community and American and British servicemen.

Even after the war was over, he campaigned on behalf of German prisoners of war to ensure that they were treated properly, and was the only person to visit his old enemy, Colonel Herbert Kappler, who had signed the Monsignor’s death warrant during the war. Kappler was ultimately baptized a Catholic by Mgr O’Flaherty in 1956.

The war time period of his life was immortalised in the 1983 film, The Scarlet and The Black, with Gregory Peck playing the Monsignor.

In 1960, Mgr O’Flaherty retired to Cahirciveen, but a series of strokes cut short his retirement, and he died just three years later in 1963.

His death was mourned throughout the world, including a front page tribute in The New York Times. In 2003 the Israeli government honored him with a tree in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Until now in Ireland, the only recognition of his heroic work, has been the planting of a grove of trees in the Killarney National Park in 1994.

His nephew, former Supreme Court judge, Hugh O’Flaherty, and niece, Pearl Dineen, will be present at the Memorial weekend, as will internationally acclaimed opera singer, Veronica Dunne, for whom Mgr O’Flaherty acted as guardian during her time in Rome in the late 1940s.

Deirdre Waldron told ciNews that the Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Society would like to see this great hero remembered in Irish history. “We would like to see a copy of his biography in every school in Ireland so that his legacy will not be forgotten.”

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(Source: CIN)

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