Above, Marie Czernin with Pope St. John Paul II on March 29, 2002. She had written a meditation for the 14th Station of the Via Crucis in the Colosseum that year, the stations recalling the death of Christ on the Cross. And John Paul II greeted her

    Two days ago, on October 28, in Vienna, Marie Czernin passed away after a long battle with cancer. Marie was 51.

    Her friends and family who surrounded her these last days were so profoundly moved by her serenity and love of others as she faced death, that they began speaking of her as a great saint even before she died.—RM


    For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” —St. Paul, Letter to the Philippians 1:21; message sent to me by fellow pilgrim Vera Little, 81, of Torrance, California, “with deepest condolences,” upon learning of the death two days ago, on October 28, of my dearest friend Marie Czernin in Vienna, at the age of 51

    As they pass through the valley of tears, they make it a place of springs.” —Psalm 84:6, which describes those strengthened by God’s blessing who bring “springs” of blessing into this world through their lives. One such person was Marie Czernin, a young Austrian woman who devoted her life to others, in recent years leading missions of mercy and hope for the poor and abandoned in places like Sudan, India, and Ukraine. Marie passed away in great peace in a hospital in Vienna, Austria, where she had spent the last three weeks, bringing to an end a four-year struggle with cancer. But it was the manner of her death that astonished all

    Her room is full of prayers, and a candle is burning. She is still full of joy, and thinking about everybody else, but her body is very weak. All her family is with her. At 8 pm every evening people pray a Rosary for Marie… Yes, she is in good spirits despite pains. She is so strong and still worries about all the others… She is strong for us, but I feel her body must be so tired. She is a saint!” —Marie’s friend, Stephanie Eble, in text messages to me

    The world, seen through her eyes, became shining and beautiful.—Manuel de Teffé, a friend who participated in the final rosaries prayed for and with Marie

    I loved Marie and I admired her. I admired her because there was something miraculous about her. She went where the need was greatest. Where evil reigns, where people cause unspeakable suffering to other people. But this evil could not harm her at all. (…)

    “Marie never lost her enthusiasm, was always radiant, always young, even when she was terminally ill.

    “Marie never lost her special ability to see the good in everyone.

    “And with this special view of people, she was like Jesus, who even met his murderers with nothing but pure compassion.

    “In the 21 days that we were allowed to pray the rosary with and for Marie, she continued to shine and even more so, although already so tired and so exhausted and hurrying toward her death. (…) Marie was beautiful in every way and even in her death she gave us her gift of beauty.

    “Of course, all of this was only possible because of her faith. I’ve been skeptical to allergic to everything to do with the Church for most of my adult life, but even so I’ve only felt from her that radiance. There was something totally disarming about her because she actually didn’t fight, not because she was a coward, but because of her connection with Jesus and His mother. (…)

    “If you are to bring the divine onto and into the world, then you have to give it space — infinite space. Prayer creates this space and casts worries and swirling thoughts outside.

    “Marie was not only filled with her faith, she also had the special gift of making this faith tangible for others. That’s why she went on missions.

    She was so delicate and fragile and made so much difference. There is something angelic about some people and Marie was particularly so. She was on and in this world, and she loved this world of ours. But at the same time she was also in another world, to which she has now gone completely home. For all of us who accompanied her, the memory of her remains and the confidence that our own deaths as well will be such a homecoming.—a woman writing in German on the prayer group chat shortly after Marie’s death.

    Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us…—The beginning of the hymn “Salve Regina” (“Hail, Holy Queen”), which asks the Virgin Mary to give aid from heaven to those who suffer in this world, this “valley of tears.” Marie died as she prepared to say a Rosary with dozens of other who had joined her daily for three weeks from around the world via Zoom for this great Marian prayer.

    So how should we enter the house of Heaven? How should we die? Death is an act, an event, an opportunity won or lost. How one ‘makes his death’ is something to be judged. Death is the great, decisive moment of salvation or damnation. (Liguori) In the space of a few hours, the soul will reach either eternal life or death. (Louis of Granada) Death will endow a person with everlasting consequences. (Fenelon). Eternity depends upon death, so choose wisely. Only one trial (one death) is accorded you, so prepare. Since death is the final act of our lives, it’s the chief act of our lives, and should be treated with due seriousness. Challoner speaks for all when he says (link) ‘The great business of our whole life is to secure this happy eternity; and nothing else can secure it but a good death. This is the necessary gate, through which we must pass to eternal life: if we think of arriving at it by any other way, we shall miss the road. A good death, then, must be the study and business of our whole life: our whole life ought to be a preparation for it.’” —David W. Fagerberg, “A Good Death,” Sunday, October 30, 2022, published in The Catholic Thing (link)    

    The Son of God descends to the dead in order to rescue those detained by death… Jesus comes to free the just and restore them to the light of the resurrection. He has been swallowed up by the darkness of death, but only to be brought back to the fulness of light and life: as the whale keeps Jonah in its belly, only to give him back after three days, so the earth will open its jaws to release the radiant body of the One who lives.” —Meditation written 20 years ago by Marie Czernin for the Via Crucis of Pope John Paul II in the Colosseum for Good Friday, March 29, 2002. Her meditation was on the 14th and last of the Stations of the Cross, which meditates on the death of Jesus, when, humanly speaking, all seems lost, and yet, the hope of Easter morning and of His rising to new life is about to be proclaimed

    May she rest in peace and may her memory be eternal!—A Russian Orthodox theologian, upon learning of Marie’s death

    Letter #115, 2022, Sunday, October 30: Marie of Austria and this “Valley of Tears”    

I am writing from the United States, with news both sad and yet — with the eyes of faith — also of joy and hope.


    First, the sad news: a beautiful young woman has just died of cancer, cutting short a life filled with hope and possibility.

    Her name was Marie Czernin, and she died two days ago, peacefully, at the age of 51, at about 20 minutes before 8 p.m. in Vienna, Austria, after about three weeks of hospitalization.


    Second, the news of joy and hope: Marie ran her shining race of Christian faith to the very end.

    I repeat: to the very, very end.

    To the very end…

    In the last days of her life, she became for hundreds of friends and co-workers a radiant sign of God’s love and kindness, especially for the poor and abandoned of this world, to whom she had brought much consolation in recent years on behalf of Missio: Austria, the Pontifical Missionary Society of Austria, where Marie was a distinguished writer and also an ambassador of Christian charity.

    Marie faced death with such serenity that many marveled at it, amazed at her strength and her concern for everyone around her, everyone but herself.

    A prayer group of some 200 people grew up around her, joining with her in her hospital room on a Zoom call to pray a rosary at 8 p.m. each evening while she lay resting, and joining in when she had the strength.

    Marie breathed her last just minutes before the evening rosary two evenings ago was about to start.


    I too marveled at her strength of spirit.

    For, though we had become friends and colleagues more than 20 years ago, and had shared many hopes and prayers over two decades, especially with regard to the return to Russia of the holy icon of Our Blessed Mother of Kazan (known popularly as “the Protection of Russia”), I was still astonished to see her courage as she confronted her own imminent departure from this world.

    Marie went forth from this life with astonishing serenity, courage, joyfulness, and humility, so much so that she became in these recent days an inspiring model for the whole Church of how a person may testify to the Christian faith in the final days of this temporal life.

    In essence, Marie, a person who from her childhood shone forth in our world with the special light of her joyous faith, became in her final days a person who shone forth still more with shining radiance.

    In these recent days, Marie’s face and eyes shone with a pure “lumen Christi,” “light of Christ,” and with a pure love for the Virgin Mary, a love which for many years had animated her life of service to others.


    Marie died peacefully after struggling with cancer for more than three years. Just a few weeks ago, it still seemed, possibly, that her cancer was in remission, and she was still walking the streets of Vienna with a certain vigor that suggested she might live much longer. Then she began to feel tired. She went into hospital, and did not leave again, though hundreds prayed fervently that God might heal her.

    Some 200 people had joined to pray the rosary with and for her via Zoom yesterday evening, when we learned that she had quietly passed away from us, very peacefully.

    “You have a special mission from Our Lady…”

    Marie was the person who, in the year 2001 in Rome, told me that she believed I had a “special mission” from “Our Lady.”

    “You have a special mission,” Marie told me, after we had talked for some time about all that we hoped and believed, acknowledging also our obvious human limitations. “You must realize that.”

    The mission, she said, was to do everything I could in my life, my writing, my work, to try to keep the Catholic faith clear and strong in a secular age filled with many challenges.

    And in particular, she added, my mission would be to try to understand and to love Russia, and all the former Soviet countries, and then to do what I could to help Russia and the former Soviet east to be again filled with that ancient Christian faith which had once been widespread in that region, so that Russia and the East might be healed from many old and painful wounds.

    Such a work and mission, Marie said, would then help to heal our own West, which had grown affluent and materially powerful, but also, unfortunately, often arrogant and forgetful of its true greatness, a greatness which was, she concluded, due to the West’s Christian faith and tradition, due to the reception of the Gospel of the redemption of the world by Christ from frustration, sin, and death.

    So Marie was, in a very special way, the beloved person who “sent” me to do this work, this mission.

    And for that, she had and will always have a special place in my heart.

    And now she has left this world.


    Mary wrote a Via Crucis meditation for John Paul in 2002 (link), and he greeted her at that time (see the picture of her with Pope St. John Paul II, below).

    This is what Marie wrote, and Pope John Paul II spoke, in Holy Week in 2002:

    “After the terrible thunder at the moment of death, the great silence. His night-time disciples, who out of fear followed him in secret, are no longer afraid. In the light of day they ask Pilate for the body of Jesus for the burial.

    “The Virgin of the great silence whose womb bore the blessed Fruit — the One that the universe could not contain — receives once more in her lap the body of Jesus taken down from the Cross: in adoration she contemplates him, in her immense sorrow she venerates him. The King sleeps, but his Bride watches: it is the day of God’s rest.

    “Together with the King, creation too sleeps in anticipation of its reawakening.

    “The Son of God descends to the dead in order to rescue those detained by death. His light overthrows the darkness of Hades. The earth shakes and the tombs open.

    “Jesus comes to free the just and restore them to the light of the resurrection. He has been swallowed up by the darkness of death, but only to be brought back to the fulness of light and life: as the whale keeps Jonah in its belly, only to give him back after three days, so the earth will open its jaws to release the radiant body of the One who lives.”

    In the years after, she often returned to that thought, of the profound silence of Holy Saturday, before the joy of Easter morning, and of the resurrection.


    The Christian who seeks peace is said by Christ in the Beatitudes to be blessed.

    Marie always sought peace.

    And now she has entered into the eternal peace of the Risen Christ.

    Leaving us to continue, as she would have wished, in the path sketched out so many years ago…

    In Christ and in the hope of peace on this beautiful but suffering earth,


    Letters from Marie

    I exchanged a number of emails with Marie over the years, as she did her work in Vienna, and I worked from Rome and the United States, traveling each year to eastern Europe.

    Here is an exchange when I learned she was ill, four years ago, in 2018:

    My letter:

July 23, 2018

I write from Moscow, to send belated best wishes to you on your birthday. I was in Alapayevsk on July 18, and I wrote a letter to describe the occasion.

    I hope you are well.


    Marie’s response, on July 23, 2018:

    Dear Bob,

    Thank you for your belated wishes on my birthday. I have not read yet your letter from Alapayevsk (…).

    But as you might have heard already from some of our friends, I have been sick for a while… with Chemo therapy since the beginning of May. That’s why I don’t check my emails on a regular basis.

    It’s been tough, but now I see light at the end of the tunnel…


    Best wishes and thanks for your prayers.


    My response:

    July 27, 2018


    Thanks for writing.


    I threw a flower into the mineshaft, in Alapayevsk. For Elizabeth, for all of that family, for all of us, for you.


    Her answer, on July 27, 2018:

    Yes. I am tired… very tired of that therapy (…).

    Thanks for throwing some flowers into the mineshaft for me. 🙂 Ella is a wonderful Saint watching over us.




    The last message I received from her was at Easter time.

    I wrote:


    I am in Assisi in San Damiano church at Vespers. It is Wednesday of Holy Week. I hope you are well.


    She wrote back, but only after 10 days, after Easter had come:

    Christ is risen!

    Truly risen!

    I wish you a blessed Easter!

    Greetings from Vienna.


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