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People: Pierre-Marie Theas
An example of agape love in action
It can be easy to be kind to people who live close to us and to show love to family, friends and people that act in a likeable way. However, it’s much harder to love a stranger or a person who lives miles away who you don’t see very often or someone who behaves badly towards you. Can a person love someone whose actions they hate or who hates them?
Showing compassion for those who are poor or sick may not seem that difficult. When images of others suffering appear on television, many people respond. Jesus took this one step further telling people that they should even ‘love their enemies’ or those who mistreat them.
During the late twentieth century, Pope John Paul II used the term ‘social love’ to show that all people should be considered a neighbour. Read more about this kind of love in The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Pierre-Marie Théas, a Catholic Bishop in the South of France, demonstrated agape love in the face of adversity, suffering great hardship in defending and helping others.
During World War 2, he was one of the few bishops to protest about the deportation of Jews from France. German soldiers had taken over large parts of France and, as in other European countries, they were rounding up Jews and sending them to concentration camps, where the majority were killed.
In a letter to be read throughout his region he wrote:
‘All men, whatever their race or religion have the right to be respected by individuals and by states.’
On 9th June 1944, the Gestapo arrested Bishop Théas and sent him to a prison camp at Compiègne. While he was there, some prisoners asked him to lead them in prayer. Théas chose to preach on ‘Love your enemies’ and suggested that the prisoners should pray for their gaolers.
This provoked a strong reaction, as those imprisoned found it so hard to accept. They couldn’t understand how they could forgive and love the Germans, who were busy trying to eradicate the entire Jewish race. However, this didn’t stop Théas; when he had the chance to say Mass at the camp he offered prayers for Germany.
Although Théas put himself at risk, his actions followed the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel; that when people speak up for and care for the marginalised, persecuted and imprisoned it is as though they are doing this for Jesus himself.
Théas saw the Jewish people who were suffering as his neighbours, and that in serving them he was serving Jesus. Likewise, he saw those who persecuted others as people in need of help. He tried to promote forgiveness and reconciliation, encouraging others to do the same.
He survived the war, dying in 1977, however, he experienced great hardship in his desire to follow Jesus' teaching to help anyone who was suffering and to stand up for others who are oppressed.
On July 8th, 1969, Yad Vashem recognized Théas as “Righteous Among the Nations” for the way he spoke out for those who were persecuted and for the suffering he also endured during the Holocaust.
Théas in his life and words saw individuals as though they were brothers and sisters who should be valued and through his actions sought to overcome hatred with love.
Read more about what Jesus had to say about Revenge and Love of Enemies
‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”