Pontiff Praises Cardinal Secretly Ordained Under Communism

Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec Marks 60 Years as a Bishop

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI describes 87-year-old Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec as a «hard-working, faithful and prudent pastor.»

The papal praise came in a Latin-language letter sent to the cardinal and made public Wednesday, the 60th anniversary of Korec’s episcopal ordination.

The Holy Father referred to the cardinal’s «sacred ministry that he has carried out for so many years with zeal,» and described the ordination anniversary as a «memorable event.»

In fact, the ordination was noteworthy by any standards. It happened in 1951, when Korec was only 27 and had been a priest just one year. L’Osservatore Romano described it as an ordination «carried out very hastily, in an apartment, with the fear that the police would raid at any moment.»

Ján Chryzostom Korec was born in Bosany, in the Diocese of Nitra, in Czechoslovakia, on Jan. 22, 1924. Communists came to power there in 1949. The following year, Korec was clandestinely ordained a Jesuit priest. His episcopal ordination the following year made him the youngest bishop in the world.

For nine years he carried out his mission as a priest and bishop in a factory where he worked as a laborer, and later as a night watchman. He was arrested in 1960, and tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was kept in a monastery converted into a prison, where there were six other bishops and some 200 priests.

During his prison years he celebrated Mass every day, and when he was in isolation, in his imagination he did the spiritual exercises. In 1968, with the «Prague Spring,» he was released from prison but was gravely ill. To earn his living he began to work as a garbage collector in Bratislava. It was then that he celebrated Mass for the first time in public.

What is important

Rehabilitation came in 1969, when he was able to get a passport for Rome, where he met with Pope Paul VI who handed him the episcopal insignias. In 1974, however, his rehabilitation was annulled and he was imprisoned again, to serve the remaining four years of his sentence. Released immediately due to his poor health conditions, he continued to work as a laborer until he was 60.

Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of Nitra, Slovakia, in 1990, and made him a cardinal in 1991. In 1998 the Holy Father called him to the Vatican to preach the Lenten spiritual exercises. 

For several years he was president of the Slovakian episcopal conference.

In an interview with the Jesuit review La Civiltà Cattolica (Feb. 21, 1987), he said: «I don’t attribute great merits to myself. The more the years pass, the more I see that what is important belongs to grace, that is, to God.»

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