Blessed Fr. Richard Henkes, S.A.C., A Picture of His Life by Fr. Alexander Holzbach, S.A.C.
In the Nazi era, Father Richard Henkes proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ fearlessly and convincingly to mankind. As a Pallottine Priest, Fr. Henkes saw the injustice and crimes of the Nazis and condemned them as sins against God. In 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau concentration camp where he died from an infection on February 22, 1945. Fr. Alexander Holzbach, a Pallottine Priest from Fr. Henkes' home of Germany, wrote a biography of Fr. Henkes. "A Picture of His Life" is available to read for free below and is now available in the Catholic Apostolate Center Store.
Fr. Richard Henkes, S.A.C., a Picture of His Life
Picture Reflection and Biography
Richard Henkes was born in 1900 in the Westerwald region in Germany. Along with his eight siblings, he grew up in Ruppach-Goldhausen. An encounter he had with Pallottines awoke in him the longing to become a priest and missionary. Starting in 1912, Richard attended the Pallottine high school in Vallendar-Schoenstatt. In mid-1918, he was called up for military service, but was not deployed. In 1919, he received his high school diploma and then entered the Pallottine community.
He finished his Pallottine education and theological studies in Limburg. During these years, thought, he struggled internally, including having suicidal thoughts. Richard Henkes, who had high standards for himself, was depressed that he could not fulfill his own ideals that he had since his youth. Nevertheless, he relied on the way he had begun - with confidence in God and in his vocation. On June 6, 1925, he is ordained in Limburg. He became an enthusiastic teacher, working first in Vallendar and in the area called Niederrhein. Then in 1931, he is transferred to be a teacher in Silesia. Father Henkes is represented in the lower right of the picture as a teacher and pastor who is turned facing the people.
The ideological confrontation with national socialism, which comes to power in Germany in 1933, quickly becomes his second vocation. At school, in numerous (retreat) courses and in his homilies, Father Henkes talked without fear and unmistakably sided with the dignity of every human being. This is shown in the upper right corner of the picture. He holds the cross against the godless national socialism.
He professed his Christian conviction clearly and definitely. Soon, though, he will be charged. He escaped sentencing only through the amnesty law which was enacted in 1938 (because of the annexation of Austria). After that, the Pallottines removed the endangered confrere from the school. Father Henkes then worked as a youth pastor and retreat master, and from 1941, as a parish priest in Strandorf (in modern-day Czech Republic). His parish included Germans and Czechs, whose relationships were very strained.
In April 1943, after a homily, he was sent to prison and finally to the Dachau concentration camp. With the prisoner number 49642, he was forced to work in Dachau in various places. Even under these inhumane conditions, he was moved - as before in Strandorf - by concern for the people, and especially about the reconciliation between Germans and Czechs. Here in the concentration camp, Father Henkes continued learning the Czech language, which he had already begun to learn in his parish.
The lower left corner of the picture shows the devotion of Father Henkes to his fellow prisoners and his commitment to reconciliation. At the end of 1944, a major typhoid epidemic broke out in Dachau. This also affected Block 17, where Father Henkes worked as a "cantinero" and a secret pastor. When the block was quarantined because of the risk of infection, Father Henkes volunteered to stay in the Block and assisted the sick in a human and spiritual way.
The picture shows at the top left, how he lovingly takes care of the sick and those in need of care - without fear of nearness and infection. After about ten weeks, Richard Henkes was infected with typhoid. He died on February 22, 1945. The bottom of the picture shows his corpse with his arms spread out wide. His posture reminds us of the crucified Lord: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (Jn 15:13). Again and again, Father Henkes learned that his projects and plans are foiled. Barbed wire runs through the entire picture and spares the heart of Richard Henkes.
He was externally captured, but he remained free internally. His confidence in God's love and nearness enabled him to follow the call of God with all its consequences and gave himself away in freedom. In the picture, the presence of Jesus Christ lights up in all of the scenes of the life of Father Henkes. Held by the nearness of the crucified, he looks at us intensely. His look radiates inner peace: "I let myself to the love - the love of Jesus Christ, who is stronger than all darkness and who defeats even death."
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