Dominique Charles Fouqueray. Cardinal Mercier protects Belgium. 1916. Parisian poster.
Desiré-Joseph Mercier *21 November 1851, †23 January 1926
As Primate of Belgium, Archbishop of Malines, Cardinal Mercier was a hero in the first world war. He defended his people against an occupying power, which by definition, as he reminded all, is a power without legitimacy. Upon returning from the funeral of Pius X, Mercier saw Belgium suffering under destruction and atrocity caused by the german military. He along with King Albert and the imprisoned Burgomaster Adolphe Max of Brussels stood bravely against the injustices of the occupiers. Belgium was a small state in the path of assault to France, but they were not cowards. Caesar wrote in De Bello Gallico, “horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae (out of them [Gauls] all, the Belgii are the bravest).”
On the first of January 1915, his pastoral letter, Patriotism and Endurance, was begun to be read throughout Belgium. The next day, he was visited by german imperial officers, whom accused him of stirring excitement against the germans and authority. He responded that his letter suggested peace. One of the officers asked, “why remind the faithful in your letter of bygone events?” The germans were not pleased. Mercier did not relent. He was in state of house arrest, his clergy whom read his words were jailed. This policy was continued, by the germans, in the next war, in which, the largest concentration of catholic clergy was in Dachau.
Later, the occupying governor general, Moritz Ferdinand Freiherr von Bissing †1917, was sending all, unemployed, belgian men as slave labor to Germany. Belgians, born of german parents, were being impressed into the german military. Cardinal Mercier protested without reservation, and some of these actions were reversed. The baron and the cardinal clashed throughout. World public opinion, seconded by allied propaganda, fell to Mercier, that expression enabled a successful resistance.
Before the war, Mercier was a theologian and philosopher. Leo XIII named Mercier to a new professorship at the University of Louvain. Mercier was a friend of Dom Columba Marmion, and the astronomer, Georges Lemaître. Mercier had family in the United States, several being clerics. He wanted church reunification with the eastern church and the anglicans. The only, negative spot, in his curriculum vitae, was his poor attitude concerning the Flemish language, which could have been a francophone chauvinism.
noto bene: Mercier is not in the canon, yet. I have not read about information on his cause.