100 years after the October Revolution, the martyrdom of the Catholic Church in the USSR
A book by historian Jan Mikrut reveals how Latin and Byzantine Catholics remained faithful during the turmoil of Soviet-era atheism, to this day. The volume comes out during the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution
Rome (AsiaNews) - Between November 7 and 8, 1917, the Bolsheviks led by Lenin established a revolutionary government ("October Revolution", according to the Julian calendar), ending the Tsarist empire and establishing the Soviet republic, which then became the USSR. 100 years since that date, on November 8 a book by Prof. Jan Mikrut, titled "The Catholic Church in the Soviet Union from the Revolution of 1917 to Perestrojka" (Verona, Gabrielli Editori, 2017) will be presented at the Gregorian University. With the contributions of several scholars, it tells how Catholics resisted the "yoke" of a regime that wanted to reset all religions, exposing the heroic testimonies of martyrs and faithful in the Latin and Greek- Catholic communities. The preface to the book is by Msgr. Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, bishop of Minsk and Mahilëu (Belarus). By kind concession of the author, below we publish some excerpts.
The volume "The Catholic Church in the Soviet Union from the Revolution of 1917 to Perestrojka", by Prof. Jan Mikrut of the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome, presents the Via Crucis that the Catholic Church, of the both rites, traversed in that era, chronologically and thematically. The Via Crucis is populated by numerous figures who have already been raised to the glory of the altars, but also by others whose beatification process is still ongoing and thousands of unknown heroes of the faith whose story we will never know.
I recall the memories of the late Card. Kazimierz Świątek, Bishop of Pinsk in Belarus, who, in recounting his arrest, described particular fact: ... I was detained in Brest prison. There was a fly with me. Her buzz brought me some comfort and joy. After a while, however, the fly settled on the parapet and stopped giving any signs of life. I was alone. Then I was deported to Siberia.
A curious story came to me from Ukraine. After Yuriy Gagarin carried out the first space flight, non-believers wanted to exploit the event to promote atheism. And so one of them went to an orthodox church, and told the pastor he was to inform the faithful that Yuriy Gagarin had been to space and had not seen God and therefore God did not exist. He threatened that if the failed to give such an announcement they would close the church. The humble priest therefore, at the end of the Sunday liturgy, told his faithful: Dear brothers and sisters, Yuriy Alekseevich Gagarin flew into space but did not see God. But the Lord saw him, blessed and therefore Gagarin returned happily to earth.
Working as a vicar in the chapel of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, I often welcomed the testimonies of the faith of the simple people who, despite the persecution, kept their faith intact. Once an old lady confided to me in the sacristy that she knelt on her knees and prayed in the church of St. Casimir, which had recently transformed into a Museum of Atheism. A museum clerk approached her, saying that she was not allowed to pray in that place as it was a museum of atheism. The old lady, however, answered resolutely that even if that was a museum for some, for her it would always be a church and therefore a house of prayer.
I will forget never the blessing ceremony of the first stone of the new church in the town of Marx on Volga, which took place in the early 1990s. Before the liturgy I was approached by the older people, begging me to put a simple brick in place of the angular stone. When I asked why they had this desire, as most usually wish the cornerstone to originate from some holy place, they proceeded to tell a truly moving story. During the religious persecution in the USSR, the old Marx church was destroyed. The inhabitants of that city, however, brought bricks from the ruins to their homes. They put them in the visible places and for long decades they prayed in front of those simple bricks. So, thanks to those bricks, the faith could be preserved and passed on to young people. We want the new church under construction to have a bond with the old, destroyed one, they told me.
Today, the Catholic Church in Russia has its own structures and is developing dynamically. Despite many difficulties it is very active in pastoral, cultural and editorial fields. Hundreds of Russian-language publications, as well as the first Catholic Encyclopedia, also in Russian, are evidence of the great concern of the clergy for the development of Catholicism and the Church in those territories.
The Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine lived in a similar situation to that of the Latin Church and was also forced to operate in secret. The testimonies of the martyrdom of the members of those Churches have great significance. Despite all the pressure and persecution, Catholics never renounced their loyalty to the Holy See.
The volume "The Catholic Church in the territory of the Soviet Union. From the Revolution of 1917 to Perestrojka" tells the difficult history of the Church in those territories. We must remember our history because it is our Mother Teacher. If there were no heroes of the faith at the time of repressions, there would never have been such rapid rebirth of the Church, it would have been condemned to annihilation, and the territories already Christianized in the tenth century would have been destined to become a spiritual desert. Thus modern times confirm the maxim of Tertullian: the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.
And yet, from a human point of view, it seemed that with the death of the priest, the Church would have disappeared from the map of the USSR, God wanted to show that he knows how to guide a straight road through the mists of history. Because He, and not someone else, put the last dot on the "i".
I hope that this volume becomes a testimony of faith in times of persecution, of which the modern world is so greatly in need.
* Metropolitan of Minsk and Mahilju (Belarus)