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Monday, September 19, 2011

Israel honors deceased Catholic priest who saved Jews in 1944

An Italian priest who risked his life in 1944 to save dozens of Jews on Grand Island (Perugia, Italy) will be granted the title "Righteous Among the Nations," the highest Jewish honor given.

The ceremony will take place Sept. 15 at the Israeli Embassy in Rome.

L'Osservatore Romano reported that on the night of June 19, 1944, Father Ottavio Posta, assisted by several fishermen, crossed Trasimeno Lake to rescue dozens of Jews who were imprisoned at the castle on Grand Island because of the racial laws of the time.

The Italian priest's case was made known thanks to numerous testimonies as well as from the research of retired Archbishop Giuseppe Chiaretti of Perugia.

A letter from August of 1944 signed by several who were on Grand Island credited Fr. Posta for the rescue. It said his testimony was even more apparent "as the danger increased. He not only got the inhabitants of the island to bring us to shore where the English were, but he also braved the danger of crossing the lake with us, amidst machine-gun fire, giving a very clear witness to his parishioners."

The Jews who signed the letter urged the bishop at the time to convey to Fr. Ottavio Posta their "gratitude for his unselfish act as a good shepherd."

The Vatican newspaper featured a few excerpts from the remarks Archbishop Gualtiero Basseti of Perugia is expected to make at the Sept. 15 ceremony. "Today the Jewish community, by making your name known today and honoring you as righteous among the nations, does not simply invite us to a ceremony in which we look to the past. Wherever faith and hope in God is evoked, it is of the present and the future that we speak," the archbishop will tell attendees.

The archbishop will also offer prayers that "the entire communion of saints will help us, and that your presence will illuminate us, Fr. Ottavio, from way atop Grand Island, where you are present among your parishioners now more than ever, as you desired."

Fr. Posta remained a pastor on Grand Island until his death in 1963.

Fr Ottavio Posta honoured as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’

Fr Ottavio Posta

Father Ottavio Posta was honoured, as he was given posthumously the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Father Ottavio Posta saved 30 Jews who had been prisoners in the castle on Isola Maggiore, an island on Lake Trasimeno, in central Italy.

Doctor Isabella Farinelli discovered a number of documents in which Jews who escaped deportation told of the help that the parish priest of Isola Maggiore had given them.

A letter sent on August 23, 1944 which was sent to the archbishop of Perugia explains what he achieved.
Father Posta, “was of great help and consolation to us during the period in which we were prisoners on the island because of the racial laws,” the letter reads. “When danger was threatening primarily because of the threats of the Germans against us, with a truly paternal and generous gesture he not only induced the islanders to transport us to the shore where the English already were, but he himself faced with us the danger of crossing the lake, under cannon and machine gun fire, giving a brilliant example to his parishioners and meriting our most profound gratitude.

“We would be most grateful to Your Excellency if with your word you made yourself the spokesman of our gratitude to the distinguished Father Ottavio Posta for his altruistic act, an act of a Good Shepherd of the unfortunate oppressed by inhuman laws.”

The letter was signed by Bice Todros Ottolenghi, Giuliano Coen, Albertina Coen and Livia Coen Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti, the current archbishop of Perugia, spoke of Father Posta as a priest who “lived his priestly ministry in poverty, sharing the little he had with the needy.”