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Bl. Karl (Charles) of Austria

Blessed Charles of Austria in his military uniform

As you probably learned in school, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg on June 28, 1914 was an important event that led to the outbreak of the War to End All Wars, or perhaps better known as World War I. The death of the archduke also made Franz Joseph the emperor of the Austro-Hungary empire and a certain Charles of Hapsburg as the heir presumptive to throne.

Charles was born in 1887 to Archduke Otto and Princess Maria Josephine of Saxony. He received a strong Catholic education which helped grow his devotion to the Holy Eucharist and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Although privately taught, he also took classes at the local high school. When he was 19 years of age, he entered the army. During his time in the army, Charles studied law and political science while fulfilling his military duties.

In 1911, he married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. They had eight children.

After the war had started, Charles served as a Field Marshal commanding the forces against the Romanians and the Russians.

Then on the death of Emperor Franz Joseph on November 21, 1916, Charles became the emperor of the Austro-Hungary empire. He immediately began efforts to use his authority to foment social reform and peace. When Pope Benedict XV proposed a peace plan, Charles I was the only European leader to support it. Charles I also began secret peace talks with the French that broke down with disagreements regarding the recognition of certain territories in Italy.

At the end of the war, Charles I proclaimed that the peoples of Austria and Hungary could determine what government they should have. He stopped short of abdication with the hope that the people might want the monarchy to be part of the new government. Eventually, the Austrian parliament exiled him and he relocated to Switzerland.

With the support of Hungarians, he twice attempted to regain his throne. However, because he did not want to start a civil war, he stopped the efforts both times.

Eventually, he traveled with his family to Portugal where he died of pneumonia at the age of 34. The last words he said were to his wife: "I love you so much."

World War I was one of the deadliest wars of all time and very few figures in Europe were viewed favorably in its aftermath. However, the French novelist, Anatole France wrote,

Emperor Karl is the only decent man to come out of the war in a leadership position, no one listened to him. He sincerely wanted peace, and therefore was despised by the whole world. It was a wonderful chance that was lost.

At his beatification on October 2, 2004, St. John Paul II said:

The decisive task of Christians consists in seeking, recognizing and following God's will in all things. The Christian statesman, Charles of Austria, confronted this challenge every day. To his eyes, war appeared as "something appalling". Amid the tumult of the First World War, he strove to promote the peace initiative of my Predecessor, Benedict XV.

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