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Did you know that the last emperor of Austria was a saint?

“I must suffer like this so my people will come together again.”

These were the words of Blessed Karl von Habsburg, last emperor of Austria-Hungary, as he lay dying in exile.

Karl had ascended to the throne in 1916, in the middle of World War I. The assassination of his uncle, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, had ostensibly precipitated the war, and the death of Franz’s father, Franz Joseph, Karl’s great-uncle, meant that Karl was the heir.

Emperor Karl was one of the only voices of peace in the midst of a senseless war. He tried to negotiate Austria-Hungary’s exit from the conflict, supporting Pope Benedict XV’s seven-point peace plan, but their efforts were rejected.

With the end of the war, the secular powers-that-be had no interest in a Catholic monarchy. The land of Austria-Hungary was broken up into smaller entities, the emperor and his family were exiled, and the monarchy and aristocracy of Austria were abolished.

After attempting to restore the throne of Hungary, Blessed Karl was sent to his final exile on the island of Madeira, Portugal. There he died of pneumonia at the age of thirty-four, leaving behind the Empress and eight children.

Blessed Karl’s legacy is one of holiness, self-sacrifice, and loyalty to God, family, and his people. He was intensely devoted to Our Lord and Our Lady. His entire concept of duty centered around following God’s will and serving the people placed under his care. He was a devoted husband and father whose wife, the Empress Zita, is also on the path to sainthood.

He was everything a ruler should be. The tragedy of his reign is not in his failure, but in the failure of the world to see what they had in him.

Pope St. John Paul II beatified Blessed Karl on October 3, 2004. He is a saint for our times, standing as a contradiction to the modern-day evils of family breakdown, secularism, and government tyranny. Let us pray for his canonization and pray that he would intercede for our troubled and sinful world.

Read more about this extraordinary saint in Blessed Charles of Austria—A Holy Emperor and His Legacy, available right here at The Catholic Company!

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