By Devin Watkins
Hopes are high among Estonian Catholics as the local Church continues its push for the beatification of Archbishop Eduard Profittlich, SJ.
The German Jesuit served as the Apostolic Administrator of Estonia from 1931 until his deportation to Siberia and martyrdom in the Soviet prison in Kirov on 22 February 1941.
His cause for beatification is currently winding its way through the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, after completion of the diocesan phase in late 2019.
Currently known as a Servant of God, the late Archbishop Profittlich offers a moving witness of faith for the people of Estonia today, as well as for Catholics further afield.
Great martyr of the Church
As the 81st anniversary of his death approaches, the Apostolic Administration of Estonia hosted an online conference on Tuesday evening to offer an update on his beatification process.
The event saw the participation of a host of Church leaders, Jesuits, and lay Catholics interested in Profittlich’s life and witness. It was moderated by Fr. Stephan Lipke, SJ, with the Jesuit-run St. Thomas Institute in Moscow, which co-hosted the conference.
Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, the Metropolitan of Moscow, kicked off the webinar by calling it an opportunity to celebrate the life of a “great martyr of the Church.”
He said Profittlich ranks among the great Bishops to have served and died in the territories of the former Soviet Union, adding that he offers the faithful around the world an excellent example of “what it means to be Catholic.”
Sharing fate of his flock
Speaking from Tallinn, just meters from where his predecessor ministered, Bishop Philippe Jourdan, the current Apostolic Administrator of Estonia, expressed his hopes that the beatification process would offer new life to the local Church’s evangelization efforts.
Profittlich, he said, was a very well-known figure in Estonia during his lifetime, even among the country’s Lutheran majority, which counted around 78 percent of the population in the 1930s.
As a German citizen, Profittlich was offered the chance to leave Estonia after its fall to the Soviet Union in 1940.
Over 20,000 Estonians were deported to Soviet prison camps during the 1940s.
The Bishop added that Estonia’s President Alar Karis even recently asked him about Profittlich’s cause, saying he was following it “with great joy.”
Maria Chiara Dommarco, a historian on Catholicism in Russia during the reigns of Lenin and Stalin, offered a review of the Vatican’s goal of evangelizing Soviet Russia, especially during the pontificates of Benedict XV and Pius XI.
She said the young Jesuit Profittlich manifested an ardent desire to take on that missionary mantle. He was eventually sent to Estonia, where he served the Church wholeheartedly and established fruitful dialogue with Orthodox and Protestant Christians.
Ms. Marge-Marie Paas, the diocesan postulator for Profittlich’s cause for beatification, then took the floor to review the path to holiness of the first Catholic Bishop in Estonia since the Protestant Reformation.
“Archbishop Eduard Profittlich,” she said, “carried out all his responsibilities with great love, and through consistent effort he was able to accomplish all that God expected of him, especially being faithful to Christ, His Church, and His Kingdom.”
Profittlich’s faithful dedication to his mission, added Ms. Paas, was crowned by God with martyrdom. He accepted to stay in Estonia fully knowing the fate he would likely suffer, a choice she said he made willingly, in deep prayer, and with the consent of the Pope.
Crown of martyrdom
As a martyr—a witness to Christ—many Estonians believe Profittlich now intercedes for the faithful before God, and Estonian Catholics are hoping to receive the Church’s recognition of this through his beatification.
A few short months before his arrest by the Soviets and deportation to Siberia, Archbishop Profittlich wrote to Pope Pius XII to request guidance as to whether to flee Estonia.
Ms. Paas summed up Profittlich’s holy example for the Church, saying he “sacrificed his life for the Kingdom of God… and he became a witness to new life and Truth.”