VATICAN CITY - A German bishop known as the "Lion of Muenster" for his courageous anti-Nazi sermons during World War II took a step on the road to sainthood when he was beatified Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica.
Pope Benedict XVI hailed the "heroic courage" of Clemens August von Galen and described the churchman, who condemned anti-Semitism, as a model for those in public roles today.
Von Galen died in 1946, at age 68, a few weeks after Pope Pius XII raised him to the rank of cardinal.
Some Jews have claimed that Pius XII did not act forcefully against the Holocaust. The Vatican has denied this.
"Von Galen feared God more than man, and this gave him the courage to say and to do things that many intelligent persons did not do in that period in Germany," Benedict said in his native German.
The pope came to the basilica at the end of the ceremony to greet churchmen, public officials and pilgrims who came from Muenster and elsewhere in Germany.
Von Galen, who joins the Church's list of the "blessed" through his beatification, dedicated himself to "defending the rights of God, of the church, of man, which the national socialist (Nazi) regime violated in a grave and systematic way, in the name of an aberrant, neo-pagan ideology," Benedict said.
Beatification is the last formal step before possible sainthood.
Later, addressing pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, Benedict praised the bishop for "protecting the Jews and the weakest persons, which the regime considered garbage to eliminate."
"This is precisely the ever-current message of Blessed von Galen: faith is not reduced to a private sentiment, perhaps something to hide when it becomes inconvenient, but implies coherence and witness even in the public sphere in defense of man, of justice, of truth," Benedict said.
Wanting to give his church fresh role models, Pope John Paul II liked to lead beatification ceremonies before large crowds in St. Peter's Square. But his successor, Benedict, has turned over that role to prelates, and Sunday's ceremony was presided over by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, who heads the Vatican sainthood office.
Von Galen spoke out against the Nazi campaign to exterminate the mentally ill and handicapped, and Saraiva Martins hailed the bishop for denouncing the Nazi regime's "death machine" during what were "very difficult times for the German church and nation."
Benedict has kept up the Vatican's crusade against abortion and euthanasia as attacks on life.
The German churchman's homilies "invite us who live in times apparently less threatening, but not less problematic for human life, to imitate his example," Saraiva Martins said.
Von Galen's homilies were secretly copied and circulated, according to German church officials.
Nazis deported to concentration camps 37 priests - of whom 10 perished - in von Galen's place as punishment for the homilies, according to a brief biography by Muenster Bishop Reinhard Lettmann.
However, von Galen was not arrested. The Nazis were worried that if von Galen were arrested and killed, Muenster's residents would be angered and "written off as lost during the duration of the war," Lettmann wrote.
Von Galen helped a Protestant pastor to hide a Jewish boy in an institute belonging to the bishop's office and took responsibility for the youth, who after the war was reunited with his mother, according to testimony carried by Vatican Radio.
John Paul prayed at von Galen's tomb during a pilgrimage to Germany in 1987.