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 will be available for purchase in the coming weeks.
Picture Reflection and Biography
Richard Henkes was born in 1900 in the Westerwald. Together with eight siblings, he grew up in Ruppach-Goldhausen. The encounter with Pallottines awakens in him the longing to become a priest and missionary.
Starting in 1912, Richard attended the Pallottine Highschool in Vallendar-Schoenstatt. In mid 1918 he was called up for military service, but is 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. In these years he has internally struggle - up to suicidal thoughts. Richard Henkes, who makes high demands on himself, is depressed that he can not fulfill on his own the ideals he had since his youth. Nevertheless, he relies on the way he had begun - in confidence on his vocation through God. On June 6, 1925, he receives his ordination in Limburg. He becomes an enthusiastic teacher, works first in Vallendar and in the area called Niederrhein, then in 1931 he is transferred as a teacher to Silesia.
Father Henkes is represented in the lower right of the picture as a teacher and pastor who is turned to the people.
The ideological confrontation with national socialism, which comes to power in Germany in 1933, quickly becomes his second huge vocation. At school, in numerous (retreat) courses and in his homilies, Father Henkes talks without fear and unmistakeably sides for the dignity of every human being.
This is shown in the upper right corner of the picture. He holds the cross against the godless nationalsocialism.
He professes his Christian conviction clearly and definitely.
Soon he will be charged. He escaped sentencing only through the amnesty law which was enacted in 1938 (because of the annexation of Austria). The Pallottines then removed the endangered confrere from the school service. Father Henkes now works as a youth pastor, retreat master and from 1941 as a parish priest in Strandorf (today the Czech Republic). His parish includes Germans and Czechs, whose relationship is very strained to each other.
In April 1943, after a homily, he is sent to prison and finally to the Dachau concentration camp. With the prisoner number 49,642, he is forced to work there at various places. Even under these inhuman conditions, he is moved- as before in Strandorf - by the concern about the people, and especially about the reconciliation between Germans and Czechs. Here in the concentration camp, Father Henkes continues learning the Czech language, which he has already begun in his parish.
The lower left corner of the picture shows Father Henkes devotion to his fellow prisoners and his commitment to reconciliation.
At the end of 1944, a major typhoid epidemic broke out in Dachau. This also affects Block 17, in which Father Henkes as a "cantinero" and a secret pastor works. When the block was quarantined because of the risk of infection, Father Henkes volunteers to stay in the Block and assist 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 gets infected. He dies on February 22, 1945.
At the bottom of the picture his corpse is shown with his arms spread out wide. His posture reminds to the crucified: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (Jn 15:13).
Again and again, Father Henkes must learn that his projects and plans are foiled.
Barbed wire runs through the entire picture and spares the heart of Richard Henkes.
He is externally captured but he remains free internally. His confidence in God's love and nearness enables him to follow the call of God with all its consequences and to give himself away in freedom.
In the picture the presence of Jesus Christ lights up in all life stations 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. "
Reflection on Graphic