Blessed Charles was born His Imperial Royal Highness Karl Franz Joseph Ludwig Hubert Georg Otto Marie von Habsburg-Lothringen on August 17, 1887 in the Castle of Persenbeug in Lower Austria. His parents were the Archduke Otto Franz of Austria and Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony. He received a strong Catholic education. As a result, he has a lifelong devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He would attend Mass and receive Holy Communion every day. He would also have a Blessed Sacrament chapel set up everywhere he went. When he became emperor later in life, Charles would always turn to prayer before making an important decision. All through his life, he motto was: “I strive always in all things to understand as clearly as possible and follow the will of God, and this in the most perfect way.”
Since Charles was not in line for immediate succession to the throne, it was decided that he would have a career in the army. In 1911, Charles married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. Both Charles and Zita shared a love for the Catholic Faith. The day after the wedding, the Prince told his wife, “Now, we must help each other get to Heaven.”
After the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, Charles became next in line for the Austro-Hungarian throne. As World War I began, Charles was made a General Field Marshal on the Italian front. Here, he served with distinction and great bravery. However, the war was not going well for Austria-Hungary. To make matter worse, Emperor Franz Joseph died in 1916 and Charles became Emperor Charles I of Austria and King Charles IV of Hungary. As Emperor, Charles’ first thought was the care and well-being of his people. He said, "As an Emperor I have to set the good example. If everyone simply did his Christian duties, we would not have so much hate and misery in the world." As supreme commander of Austro-Hungarian forces, Charles did his best to lead based on Catholic morality. He opposed the bombing of cities and tried to prevent the use of chemical weapons. He was also very concerned about the material and spiritual welfare of his troops.
In 1917, in response to calls for peace from Pope Benedict XV, Charles tried to make peace with the Allies. However, the Allies wanted concessions from his German ally that Charles had no power to agree to. Once, Germany became aware of Charles’ efforts, they were furious, even planning at one point to invade Austria. Meanwhile, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was being torn apart from within by ethnic turmoil stirred up by revolutionaries. After the armistice, the Empire was effectively dissolved. Charles refused to abdicate because he saw his kingship as a sacred duty from God that man could not destroy.
In 1919, Charles and his family went into exile in Switzerland. Admiral Miklos Horthy became regent, but refused to step down when Charles tried to restore the monarch in 1921. When it became obvious that he could only regain the throne through civil war, Charles said, “As a Catholic Prince, I will never accept from Satan what has been given to me by God.” The last thing he wanted was to waste life in a needless conflict. Switzerland was now closed to him, so he and his family moved to the Portuguese island of Madeira. However, the living conditions were terrible. After two heart attacks the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary died on April 1, 1922 in the presence of his wife and 8 children. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 3, 2004. He is honored on October 21st.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Blessed Charles I of Austria, the Last Emperor of Austro-Hungary
The following was written by John Paul Wohlscheid. This story was published in the bulletin of St. Mary's Church, Lowell, Michigan.