On April 1st 1922, Karl von Habsbburg, the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary died in exile on the island of Madeira. He had tried in vain to bring about peace during World War I. The war dragged on until 1918, with thousands upon thousands of young men killed.
Known as a man of honour and integrity, Emperor Charles was devout, courageous, hard-working, a loyal and affectionate husband and father, and a man of vision who believed that the ancient central European empire his family had ruled for generations could, with adaptions, have a future as a federation of nations and peoples living in peace together…but it was not to be, and his work and hopes and prayers ended when his sincere efforts for peace crashed.
On April 2nd, 2005, Karol Woytila, better known as Pope John Paul II, died in Rome after a long illness. Born into what had been the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he was named after its last Emperor., under whom his father had served in the Austro-Hungarian army. The young Karol Woytila was educated in s school system that had been forged under the old Empire, he spoke – as had his father – fluent German as well as Polish, and his world-view was shaped by an understanding of the place of Poland in the world as a great nation with a rich history, open to the West and to the East of Europe.
As Pope, John Paul beatified Karl von Habsburg in a ceremony in Rome, noting his work for peace and for Christian family life. Karl’s death on April 1st, which often falls in Holy Week or Eastertide, meant that it was necessary to offer a better date for his feast-day, and John Paul chose October 21st, Karl’s wedding day. John Paul himself was a strong defender of Christian marriage and family life – “the Pope of the family” – and Blessed Karl was to be a champion of family values for the 21st century.
In 2014 John Paul was himself canonised. His death on April 2nd, which often falls in Holy Week or Eastertide , meant that it was necessary to offer a better date for his feast-day and so the date of October 22nd was chosen, the day on which he was elected Pope.
None of this was planned. All of this was God’s planning. Two great men, bearing the same name, dying on consecutive days, having their feasts on consecutive days, both men dedicated to a Christian vision of Europe, a vision of peace and family life.