Titus Brandsma Award



Maybe a small country like the Netherlands once in a while in its history can be great because of the life and the work of one of its inhabitants. This kind of thinking is seductive but does not fit a person who, in the bloom of his life, was leading the life of a mystic par excellence.

Already on the occasion of the 50th birthday of Titus Brandsma (1881-1942) various facets of the spiritual personality of this Carmelite priest came to notice of people.

We remember him as a journalist and pleader for the organised Catholic journalist movements. We also remember him as a man of resistance against the powers of evil, as a priest, as a scientist who was teaching philosophy and as a mystic.

Contemporaries presented an image of Brandsma as a warm-hearted and compassionate person who knew how to unite love for God and availability for the other.

Significance of Tributes to Brandsma

We discovered a development in the significance of Titus Brandsma who was beatified in 1985. In the Netherlands, this Carmelite priest has been spontaneously commemorated since his death in the concentration camp at Dachau in Germany.

In press circles, he was considered a martyr for the freedom of the press in general and for the Catholic press in particular.

It was well known that his call for resistance against the national-socialist ideology in the Netherlands, then occupied by the Germans, cost him his life.

In Italy as well as in Anglo-Saxon countries, the memory of Brandsma immediately after his death was characterised by his resistance against the nazification of the press with the objective of total spiritual control.

Brandsma began to realise the dangers of national-socialism before anyone else and warned the people about it.

In 1936, Brandsma openly expressed his serious concern about a certain lack of militancy, enthusiasm and spirit of sacrifice among Catholic journalists. After a century of growth of the Catholic press in the Netherlands, his contemporaries were lacking the holy fire of the pioneers.

As he invited them to get inspiration from the pioneers and get back to their origins and sources, Brandsma put the pressure of the circumstances of the times on the journalists and on journalism in general.

Brandsma also stressed that he did not expect any positive input from idealists who did not have the sense of the reality of life.

Adviser for Journalists in 1936

Titus Brandsma became the person trusted by the bishops, Catholic journalists and publishers.

In 1935, the Archbishop of Utrecht appointed Brandsma as spiritual adviser of the Dutch Catholic Association of Journalists. Brandsma was already writing for journals and reviews.

In the times of war, the Catholic press was a kind of extension of the pulpit. Brandsma, then publicist and professor of mysticism at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands took his task very seriously.

He did not practise in order to control the content of the Catholic journals. He was interested in improving labour conditions and the formation of journalists.

As a fighter against injustice, Titus Brandsma also wanted journalists and publishers to be treated justly. He defended individual members who were involved in labour conflicts, but he also worked for better conditions of labour.

It was interesting to note that Brandsma with all his energy and intellectual capacities was involved in the study of new forms of journalism. Influenced by the emergence of the radio and, since the middle of the thirties, also of the television, he was expecting great changes in print and photo journalism.

During his study tour to the United States as spiritual adviser of journalists, he became aware of the developments awaiting the media. But the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands on the 10 May 1940 put an end to freedom on all levels.

His Detention in 1942

During the German occupation, Brandsma demonstrated his resistance in two ways. He protested openly and steadily against the nazification of the Dutch culture: in the field of secondary education and in the field of the Catholic press.

But it was his resolute and well-reflected performance as spiritual adviser of the Catholic journalist and publishers that became the cause for his detention in the Carmelite Monastery in Nijmegen in the Netherlands on 19 January 1942.

The Nazi forces were constantly testing the mentality of the journalists and the directors of journals. At the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, the journals were forced to publish advertisements from the National-Socialists Movement and its daughter-organisations.

The reason given was to promote the "unity of Dutch people". With strong support from the Archbishop of Utrecht, Mgr. Jan de Jong, Titus Brandsma visited all the Dutch Catholic journals at the beginning of 1942. He was delivering a letter, in which he clearly stated why they should not publish the advertisements offered by the Germans.

In an official publication of 16 January 1942, the bishops, after advice from Brandsma, prohibited not only controversial advertisements, but also the publication of the articles from the "editorial board" which could be interpreted as favourable towards the National-Socialist Movement.

Newspapers that did not follow this episcopal order would no longer be allowed to call themselves Catholic. Because of this unusual heavy handed action, the Germans made the press adviser of the archbishop pay for it.

The detention of Brandsma was a direct consequence of his call (through the bishops) to the Catholic press for spiritual resistance. His via crucis came to an end on 26 July 1942 in the concentration camp at Dachau near Munich in Germany.

Justice for Journalists and for the World

On 3 November 1985, the commemoration of Titus Brandsma received an official recognition from the Church. That Sunday, Pope John Paul II beatified this great person in the forum of the universal Church, St Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy.

On 27 September 1992, the Titus Brandsma Award was conferred for the first time at the UCIP world congress in Brazil.

The award offered by the Dutch Bishops' Conference is intended for journalists or publications who were or are persecuted because of their journalistic work.

The award is an on-going call, in the spirit of Titus Brandsma, for journalists to take their profession seriously in the most bizarre circumstances.

It is also a call to all media men and women to keep alive the idea of justice in the media and to bring justice to today's world; keeping silence in the face of injustice would only destroy the fundamentals of our profession.

This article is reproduced with acknowledgment of the UCIP Information.

Last revised: 22 June 1998