Cardinal Achille Liénart

Cardinal Achille Liénart Place de la Notre Dame de la Treille, Lille, France
Cardinal Achille Liénart
Place de la Notre Dame de la Treille, Lille, France

Cardinal Achille Liénart

Place de la Notre Dame de la Treille, Lille, France

 

On 6 October 1928, Achille Liénart became Bishop of Lille. At 44 years of age, he was the youngest Bishop France had ever seen. Within a year, he’d earned himself the nickname, the Red Bishop. Workers in the nearby town of Halluin had gone on strike. Bishop Liénart came out in support of those involved in the action and spoke in their defence. He used his influence to mediate and to find a solution to the conflict, as well as setting up a relief-fund for those affected. I do a duty of charity, he said simply. It made him popular. But by 1940, his popularity had waned. By then, he’d been made a Cardinal by Pope Pius XI. And he’d started preaching loyalty to the Vichy government. However, when 86 working men were massacred in the village of Asq on 1 April 1944, a short distance from Lille, Cardinal Liénart openly denounced the Germans, and the Wafen-SS who’d carried out the brutal slaughter of so many innocent people. Liénart presided over the funerals of each of the 86 victims. Two decades on, in 1968, after 40 years as Lille’s Bishop, he stepped down. He passed away five years later, in 1973, at 89. This statue by Jean Roualland was put up just in front of Lille’s Notre Dame de la Treille cathedral in 1986, and is said to represent Cardinal Achille Liénart in the guise of Saint Achilleus. The Cardinal’s namesake. Achilleus and his friend Nereus were soldiers in the Roman army. As such, it was their job to put to death large numbers of Christians. But Achilleus and Nereus didn’t approve of such cruel and meaningless butchering. In fact, they’d come to hear a bit about Christianity. What they’d heard, they’d liked. So, they refused to kill any Christians. And just before they were martyred by their Roman overloads for refusing their orders, Achilleus and Nereus themselves became Christians. It’s a story about standing up for what you believe in, no matter the consequences. And standing up for what you believe in is something Cardinal Achille Liénart, the Red Bishop, did too.

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