Martyrs & Witness of Faith
10/4/2001
Russia: Land of Martyrs
"I come from Russia," the Polish Archbishop stated, "a country whose name, until recently, was associated with the persecution of religion and the rights of man when totalitarianism was dominant. However, although Russia has truly been the Golgotha of the 20th century, today the Church is being reborn. Today, in view of the new millennium, the testimony of the martyrs cannot be forgotten."
Among the testimonies heard today at the international symposium on "The Martyrs of Eastern Europe and Nazism," organized by the Pontifical Athenaeum "Regina Apostolorum" in Rome, that of Moscow's Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz made particular impact.

"I come from Russia," the Polish Archbishop stated, "a country whose name, until recently, was associated with the persecution of religion and the rights of man when totalitarianism was dominant. However, although Russia has truly been the Golgotha of the 20th century, today the Church is being reborn. Today, in view of the new millennium, the testimony of the martyrs cannot be forgotten."

Martyrs' Ecumenism According to Moscow's Archbishop, "the testimony of the Christian martyrs of the different confessions is a common heritage of the whole Church of Christ and clearly expresses its ecumenical character. Moreover, in recalling that believers of other religions or simply persons of good will also suffered, it is necessary to speak of the testimony of martyrs as an inter-religious and human patrimony in general."

To Forget Would Be Unforgivable This ecumenism of the martyrs convinces more than all other attempts at dialogue. "The martyrs' voice is stronger than the voice of division. Therefore, their testimony is a reason for hope for future generations. Our task, therefore, is to do what is necessary so that the Church and history will not lose the testimony of the martyrs of the faith, both of the known and the unknown. To forget them would be unforgivable for us."

Trampled Presence The history of the Catholic Church in Russia in this century is dramatic. "In a huge territory of 4 million square kilometers, what at present is the European part of the Russian Federation, constituting 40% of the territory of the Old Continent, there were two episcopal cathedrals before the 1917 Revolution: St. Petersburg's and Saratov's, with their own seminaries and the Theological Academy in Moscow. There were 140,000 faithful in 150 parishes were assisted by 250 priests, with 14 women's and 7 men's religious orders working actively. In St. Petersburg, for example, priests and Catholic religious gave religion classes in 72 schools. The charitable activity was very dynamic. Moreover, in Asian Russia there were also Catholic parishes," Archbishop Kondruusiewicz said.

Attempts were made to trample on these realities and to make this Catholic presence disappear from the map. What is most paradoxical, the Archbishop commented, is that the new Russian laws do not recognize the Church legally, since its presence was not registered in the last years of the Soviet dictatorship. This is the new marginalisation that Catholics of the country are suffering.

However, the Archbishop of Moscow concluded, they count on the example of St. Rafail Kalinowsky, martyr of Serbia; of Blessed Georgy Matulievic-Matulaitis, Anton Leschewicz, Boleslava Lament, Ursula Leduchowska, and of all those who gave their life on Russian soil. ZE00050408

TWO THIRDS OF ALL MARTYRS KILLED IN 20TH CENTURY Statements by President of Commission of New Martyrs

ROME, MAY 5 (ZENIT.org).- In the 2000 years of the Church's history, two thirds of all the martyrs died in the 20th century (close to 27 million out of a total of 40 million). This was the revelation made by Bishop Michel Hrynchyshyn, Exarch of the Ukrainians of the Byzantine rite in France, and president of the Commission of New Martyrs of the Vatican Jubilee Committee, a group of 10 experts established a few years ago by the Pope, with the task of gathering information on the martyrs of our century from the Churches of all the different Christian confessions.

Bishop Hrynchyshyn opened the sessions of the international symposium "The Martyrs of Eastern Europe and Nazism," which the Pontifical Athenaeum "Regina Apostolorum" of Rome offered as its contribution to the Jubilee Martyrs' Day on May 7, when John Paul II will preside at the "Commemoration of the 20th Century Witnesses of the Faith" in the Coliseum.

-- Bishop Hrynchyshyn, why is it true that the 20th century has had the most Christian martyrs?

-- BISHOP HRYNCHYSHYN: In the "Christian World Encyclopedia," scholar David B. Barrett maintains that during the last 20 centuries there have been close to 40 million "martyrs," 26,685,000 of them in the 20th century. Of course Barrett uses the term "martyr" in a very broad sense. But the Pope is in agreement with this tendency. "This century has seen very numerous martyrs, especially because of Nazism, communism, and racial and tribal conflicts (Cf. Bull Incarnationis Mysterium).

-- What are the reasons for such a large number of "martyrs"?

-- BISHOP HRYNCHYSHYN: There are close to one billion Catholics in the world, in addition to other Christians; all groups have been persecuted and have been killed for their faith all over the planet, in more than 70 nations. The perverse ideologies of Nazism and communism spread throughout the world: these are responsible for the elimination of many Christians.

-- What is the geography of martyrdom that is reflected in the work of the Commission you preside? How many martyrs have you counted? What countries or continents have been most affected by this phenomenon?

-- BISHOP HRYNCHYSHYN: Martyrdom is emblematic of the 20th century; it is striking and marks our time. Undoubtedly the greatest number of martyrs has been registered in Europe, where Christians were persecuted in virtually every country. The Commission of New Martyrs was given the task to prepare "catalogues" of "martyrs." We have contacted the various Episcopal Conferences around the world to gather documents and information on "martyrs" in different countries. To date we have received records relating to 10,000 cases. The information has been classified according to established criteria and catalogues have been made. In nations like Sudan, Algeria, North Korea, China... Christians are still martyred for their faith.

-- What distinguishes these modern martyrs from those of other centuries of the Church's history?

-- BISHOP HRYNCHYSHYN: Today's martyrs are less known, less "glorious" in people's eyes. The details of many of their stories are unknown. They were killed almost secretly. Some languished for years in prisons and "gulags." We don't even know where they died and where they were buried. It is something totally different from the glory of those who were torn apart by lions in the Colosseum:

-- What are the most unexpected aspects of the census on which you are working?

-- BISHOP HRYNCHYSHYN: Martyrdom is a great treasure and blessing for the Church. But this treasure has been neglected and ignored until John Paul II began insistently to attract our attention to this unique grace of the 20th century. This Pope has beatified some 900 martyrs in his pontificate. "I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life" (Jn 4, 35).

This is the stimulating challenge which the Church faces today: the harvesting. And it is already a fact. Good texts have already been written on the subject: I think the studies of Andrea Riccardi (in Italian), Didier Rance (in French) and Robert Royal (in English) will be available for the May 7 celebration. The German Episcopal Conference has edited to volumes on Witnesses for Christ; Charlotte Molette an additional two volumes on the Martyrs of the spiritual resistance. Moreover, remarkable study meetings have been organized, like this congress of the Pontifical Athenaeum "Regina Apostolorum" of Rome on "The Martyrs of Eastern Europe and Nazism"; or like the conference announced in April 1999 in Lvov, Ukraine.

-- From the point of view of ecumenism, what has your research found? What confessions have been the most outstanding for witnesses of faith in our century?

-- BISHOP HRYNCHYSHYN: In his address to the Synod of Europe last October, Anglican Bishop John Hind of Gibraltar said: "All our Churches have martyrs." I am moved to remember that every year, when I was rector of a seminary, we remembered a former student who gave his life in Papua New Guinea in 1942. He did not die for the Church of England, but for Jesus Christ and those he was called to serve. This commemoration was useful so that the students could think again about their calling. And I anxiously wait the day when we will each learn to honor the other's martyrs. We were all profoundly moved by the martyrs to the European dictators of the 20th century. They come from different confessions, like the companions of St. Charles Lwanga and those who sacrificed their life under Idi Amin in Uganda, as, for example, Archbishop Janani Lurum. During the 10th Orthodox Congress of Western Europe (Paray-le-Monial, 1999), Bishop Kalixto spoke about the martyrdom of Orthodox Christians. The ecumenism of the "gulags" was certainly one of the most splendid Christian testimonies. In the "gulags" all Christians were one; they spoke the same language.

-- As regards the martyrs of Nazism and communism, the subject of this congress at the Pontifical Athenaeum "Regina Apostolorum," what are its common aspects and what are its differences in your opinion?

-- BISHOP HRYNCHYSHYN: Communism declared itself without God or against God, while Nazism, instead, was a perverse philosophic system. Nazism did not declare war on the Church, but simply persecuted Christians when it was necessary for its objectives. Communism, on the other hand, openly proscribed some Churches, destroying them as happened in Romania and Ukraine in the respective Greek-Orthodox communities. Christians have been expressly persecuted for their faith. In any case, both ideologies generated millions of "martyrs."
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz (Moscow)
© Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz