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Pope John Paul II, in Romania, praying before the tombs of the Romanian Catholic Martyrs © Vatican Media

Romania: This is the Story of the Seven Bishop-Martyrs that Pope Francis Beatified

They Were Tortured between 1950 and 1970

On Sunday, June 2, 2019, Pope Francis beatified in Romania, seven Greek-Catholic Bishop-Martyrs, tortured under the Soviet Communist regime.

This is the first time that Pope Francis presided over the Divine Liturgy, namely, a Mass in the Byzantine Rite. He celebrated Holy Mass at 11:00 am (10:00 am in Rome), in the Freedom Field of Blaj, where he beatified the seven Romanian martyrs, tortured and imprisoned in the years prior to Nicholas.

The Decree of Martyrdom — to beatify Valeriu Traian Frentiu , Vasile Aftenie, Ioan Suciu, Tit Liviu Chinezu, Ioan Balan, Alexandru Rusu and Iuliu Hossu, murdered between 1950 and 1970 –, was promulgated by the Pontiff on March 19, 2019, through the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

On March 25, 2019, the Holy See confirmed that Pope Francis would beatify the seven Bishop-Martyrs in the Freedom Field of Blaj on June 2, 2019.

The Greek-Catholic Church’s Calvary

In 1945, 1.5 million Catholics of the Eastern Rite lived in Romania. It was a living and thriving Church, which returned to unity with Rome in 1968. At the end of World War II, Romania fell under the influence of the Soviet Union: the Romanian Communist Party, a Marxist-Leninist party, came to power on December 30, 1947. This event unleashed the Greek-Catholic Church’s Calvary, which became “illegal,” and had all its properties confiscated. With the connivance of the Orthodox Hierarchy, the Communist Authorities suppressed this Church on Moscow’s orders. The intention in all the countries of the Communist orbit was to separate Catholics from the Pope.

Not a Single Bishop Yielded

Despite the pressure exerted on the Greek-Catholic clergy and faithful, to be assimilated in the State’s official Church, not a single Bishop gave in, so the seven Bishops were imprisoned, tortured and killed. During this period, the Greek-Catholic Church continued to function underground and in diaspora. Communism lasted in Romania until Nicholas Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989.

Initially, a campaign was launched to integrate the Greek-Catholic clergy in the Orthodox Church: of 1,600 priests, only 38 yielded to the pressure. Despite this, the Greek-Catholic Church was declared dissolved and its building and goods were confiscated. Then physical persecution began: hundreds of Greek-Catholic priests were arrested and imprisoned; only a few gave in.

Valeriu Traian Frentiu

He was first Bishop of Oradea and then Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Alba Iulia and Fagaras. The Communist regime arrested him on October 28, 1948. He was secluded in the Dragoslavele concentration camp and then in the Caladarusani Monastery — which had become a center of seclusion, and from 1950 on he was kept in the penitentiary center of Sighetul Marmatiei.

Ioan Suciu

Bishop Ioan Suciu of Alba-Julia, pronounced these words in his Cathedral before being arrested: “We will submit to the laws but will do nothing against our faith. And if they ask us: on what side are you, on the side of the people or of the Pope? We will answer on the side of God, so that He will help this people.” He was detained on October 28, 1948, and died as a result of repeated physical tortures, after five years of Calvary.

Alexandru Rusu

Under the pretext of being received in audience by the Minister of Religious Affairs, Petre Constantinescu-Iasi, on August 13, 1956 he was separated from the other Bishops and taken to the Cocotu Monastery of Niculitel. In 1957, the military tribunal of Cluj sentenced him to 25 years of forced labour for instigation and high treason. He was jailed in Gherla, in cell number 10, in the basement, where he conducted himself with great dignity.

In the spring of 1963 he was stricken with a kidney ailment. On May 9, after blessing those present and his cell companions, he said: “My brothers, now I’m going to God to receive my reward for the life received from Him, for the Church and for Romanians.” These were his last words. He was buried without a religious ceremony in the cemetery for political prisoners of Gherla, in tomb No. 133.

Vasile Aftenie

Bishop of Ulpiana, he was arrested on October 28, 1948 by the Communist Authorities and taken first to Dragoslavele and later to the concentration camp built in the Caldarusani Monastery, where he was tortured and mutilated. Finally, he was imprisoned in the Vacaresti jail, where he died on May 10, 1950.

Tit Liviu Chinezu

This Prelate was arrested on October 28, 1948, along with other Bishops and priests, and taken to the Neamt Monastery. Later he was imprisoned in the Caldarusani jail where he received his Episcopal Ordination from other Bishop-prisoners on December 3, 1949. When the Communist Authorities heard about the Ordination, the new Bishop was taken to the penitentiary center of Sighetul Marmatiei. There he fell seriously ill as a result of forced labour, hunger and cold. He died on January 15, 1955 and was buried in a common grave.

Ioan Balan

He was consecrated Bishop of Lugoj in 1936 and appointed Metropolitan some time later. He was arrested on October 28, 1948 and secluded in Gragoslavele and later in the Caldarusani Monastery. In May of 1950 he was taken to the penitentiary center of Sighetul Marmatiei, and in 1956 to the Ciorogarla monastery where he fell gravely ill. He died on August 4, 1959.

Iuliu Hossu

He was the Bishop of the Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Gherla, in Transylvania. He was arrested on October 28, 1948 by the Communist government and deported to Dragoslavele. Then he was taken to the Caldarusani Monastery and eventually to the Sighetul Marmatiei prison. After being secluded in several other centers, he was again taken to the Caldarusani Monastery, where he remained until his death on May 28, 1970.

A Few Testimonies of Many Other Martyrs

These seven Greek-Catholic Bishops are only a few of Christians of Romania  — Bishops, priests and laymen — who merited the crown of martyrdom.

Among them is Bishop Ioan Ploscaru, who died in 1998 at 87, of which the last 15 years were spent in prison in inhuman conditions. Then there is Alexandru Todea, consecrated Bishop secretly in 1959 and imprisoned from 1951 to 1964. When he came out of prison, after 13 years, he reorganized the underground Greek-Catholic Church and when Communism collapsed, he was appointed Archbishop and later Cardinal by John Paul II.

 

About Rosa Die Alcolea

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