On the eve of this new millennium, Pope Saint John Paul II, on October 1st, 1999, the feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux, in the Apostolic Letter Spes Aedificandi (‘building up hope, or hope must be built up). proclaimed Saints Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) co-patronesses of Europe, which could sure use their intercession, more than two decades from that auspicious announcement. Here is an excerpt with the Holy Father’s words on Edith Stein, whose own entrance into eternity, we just celebrated, to whom, as a fellow philosopher, and who suffered under the Nazis as he had done, Karol Wojtyla had a great devotion:
8. With Edith Stein—Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—we enter a very different historical and cultural context. For she brings us to the heart of this tormented century, pointing to the hopes which it has stirred, but also the contradictions and failures which have disfigured it. Unlike Bridget and Catherine, Edith was not from a Christian family. What we see in her is the anguish of the search and the struggle of an existential “pilgrimage”. Even after she found the truth in the peace of the contemplative life, she was to live to the full the mystery of the Cross.
Edith was born in 1891 to a Jewish family of Breslau, which was then in German territory. Her interest in philosophy, and her abandonment of the religious practice which she had been taught by her mother, might have presaged not a journey of holiness but a life lived by the principles of pure “rationalism”. Yet it was precisely along the byways of philosophical investigation that grace awaited her: having chosen to undertake the study of phenomenology, she became sensitive to an objective reality which, far from ultimately dissolving in the subject, both precedes the subject and becomes the measure of subjective knowledge, and thus needs to be examined with rigorous objectivity. This reality must be heeded and grasped above all in the human being, by virtue of that capacity for “empathy”—a word dear to her—which enables one in some way to appropriate the lived experience of the other (cf. Edith Stein, The Problem of Empathy).