For the first time in 10 years a priest was beatified in Germany. It was also the first beatification in the country to take place in the pope’s absence.

In the Speyer Cathedral, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter of Munich read an Apostolic Letter from Pope Benedict XVI. In it, the pope called Paul Josef Nardini (1821-1862) an exemplary priest who had shown compassion and love for the poor and suffering.

A number of high-ranking church officials were among the 2,000 people to attend the ceremony. In the future Nardini, known as the "father of the poor," will be commemorated on the anniversary of his death, Jan. 27.

Nardini founded the order of the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family. The pews of the cathedral were filled to overflowing; with, among others, 600 nuns from the order. In front of the cathedral were thousands of people who watched the event on a large video screen set up in the square.

Honoring a ‘Gifted Minister’

"Paul Josef Nardini was a gift to humanity," Wetter said in his sermon. It was the first beatification in Germany in 10 years, and the first time a beatification took place without the pope himself being present.

In his speech Anton Schlembach, the bishop of Speyer, stressed Nardini’s activities as a priest. He was a "highly gifted minister" who "opened people’s eyes to the necessity and beauty of the priesthood," Schlembach said.

Order Founder

Nardini founded his order in the town of Rhineland-Palatainate town of Pirmasens. Today they are known as the Sisters of Mallersdorf, with around 1,100 members world wide. He also set up a home for poor Catholic children in Pirmasens. Today it is home to 110 needy teenagers.

The acceptance procedure for Nardini’s beatification started 16 years ago. In order to achieve beatification, a candidate needs to have either died as a martyr, or performed a miracle. In Nardini’s case, the healing of one of the Pirmasen nuns, Stephana Beyer, in 1953 was called a miracle. She recovered from late-stage cancer after the sisters of the order prayed at Nardini’s tomb.

Last year, Pope Benedikt XVI decided that beatification ceremonies could be performed by a representative in his absence.