Marcel Callo (1921-1945) was a Breton beatified in 1987 by John Paul II. Sent to Germany for the Compulsory Work Service (STO, for Service de Travail Obligatoire), Marcel was deported to a concentration camp for having affirmed and lived his Catholicism. After great suffering, having always kept the flame of his faith alive, he died at the age of 23, his gaze luminous with hope. The centenary of Blessed Marcel Callo was celebrated in Rennes in 2021.
Marcel Callo was born on December 6th, 1921 in Rennes. He is the second of nine siblings. As a child, he joined the Eucharistic Youth Crusade, (now the EYM: Eucharistic Youth Movement), and learned to make his life an uninterrupted prayer, and to place the Eucharist at the heart of any initiative according to the motto of the Crusaders: “Pray, communion, sacrifice—be an apostle.” In 1933, Marcel began scouting, in which he became fully invested. At the age of 12, after obtaining his certificate of studies, Marcel entered the Simon printing press as an apprentice typographer. The atmosphere was not appropriate for a 12-year-old boy and, following his mother's advice, Marcel placed himself under the protection of the Virgin, the helper of adolescents. Despite the difficulties, he became a competent worker, appreciated by his foreman, and began to look after the young apprentices. Anxious to live his Christian values and transmit them, Marcel joined the Young Christian Workers (YCW). He became section head and put his heart into managing his practical and moral responsibilities. In 1937, he participated in the national congress of the EYM in Paris with 85,000 young people, an experience that deeply marked him. The young man got married in 1942. A year later, after his sister had just died in the Rennes bombing, Marcel was summoned to the compulsory work service in Germany (STO, the Compulsory Work Service). On March 19, 1943, Marcel arrived in Thuringia and began working in a revolver factory. He stayed in a camp of 3,000 workers in difficult conditions and worked clandestinely on Catholic action. After a few months, the young man was arrested and imprisoned in Gotha. Marcel was put in a cell with twelve other Jocite activists, and together they began a life of prayer and sharing. In 1944, Marcel was deported to the concentration camp of Flossenburg, then Mauthausen in Austria. The living conditions were inhuman: forced labour, almost nonexistent food, exposure to the cold, whipping, etc. At the heart of these indescribable sufferings, the young man kept his faith alive. After losing 40 kg, Marcel died of exhaustion and various diseases on March 19th, 1945 at the age of 23. Colonel Tibodo, having stood at his bedside at the time of death, testifies to the extraordinary look of hope that lit the face of dying Marcel: “Marcel Callo had a really supernatural look. His gaze expressed a deep conviction that he was heading for happiness. It was an act of faith and hope towards a better life. I have never seen in a dying man a look like this.”
The diocese of Rennes celebrated his 100th birthday in 2021. An exhibition on his life was open throughout the year 2022 in the Saint-Aubin Basilica of Rennes.
Father Jégo, a chaplain in Rennes and friend of the Callo family, wrote a book on Marcel, which was published in 1946. This work was immediately a great success, and it was translated into German by Father Gérardi, who became the promoter of the cause of beatification. Later, Cardinal Paul Gouyon, author of the book "Marcel Callo, witness of a generation", opened the diocesan informative process, the first step towards beatification. Subsequently, the Church officially recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Marcel Callo. It was Pope John Paul II who beatified the young man from Rennes in 1987 at a synod on the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world. Marcel Callo quickly became widely known. German Catholics have a great devotion to him and associate him with Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe.
In August 2023, World Youth Day (WYD) will be held in Lisbon (Portugal). Marcel Callo is one of the 13 figures of holiness chosen as a model of Christian life for young people. Among the patron saints of WYD 2023, we find other young contemporaries who led an evangelical life before making their way to heaven, still so young. This is the case of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, and Blessed Carlo Acutis.