VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2001 (Zenit.org).- During his visit to Ukraine, which begins this Saturday, John Paul II will beatify 27 martyrs and three confessors of the faith.
Among the new blessed will be Omeljan Kovc (1884-1944), married Greek-Catholic priest and father of six, who was martyred by the Nazis for helping persecuted Jews.
The other 26 martyrs comprise nine bishops, 13 priests, three nuns and the father of a family, all victims of Josef Stalin, who tried to force them to become members of the Orthodox Church. Stalin aimed to do away with the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
Speaking over Vatican Radio, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, recalled: “Following the death of Metropolitan Archbishop Andrea Szeptyckyj [Nov. 1, 1944], the Ukrainian bishops, among them new Metropolitan Josyf Slipyi, were arrested by the Communist authorities and condemned. From that moment the Ukrainian Church became the ´silent Church,´ as it was defended by no one. It was only Pope Pius XII, who in the 1945 encyclical ´Orientales Omnes Ecclesias,´ gave the world one of the clearest documents in defense of the patrimony of their faith, singling out with lucidity the horrors of Communism.”
The cardinal recalled that the Communist regime instituted the “Group of Initiative for the Union of the Greek-Catholic Church to the Orthodox Church,” which in 1946 called the Synod of Union in Lviv, to impose the fusion of the two Churches and the suppression of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
No Catholic bishop took part in that maneuver orchestrated by the Communist regime, but the Moscow Patriarchate´s refusal to welcome the Pope shows how that wound is still open.
“The beatification of these martyrs,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins said, “has very profound meaning for the Ukrainian people, because [the martyrs] are the expression of the fierce persecution suffered by all the people who see in these heroes, who will be beatified, the recognition of so many sufferings endured because of their unbreakable faith and profound feeling of union with the Church of Rome.”
The Greek-Catholics have regained their liberty and experienced a rebirth in the past decade. Today they number close to 5 million in Ukraine.
In addition to the 27 martyrs, the Pope will beatify Josaphata Hordashevska (1869-1919), founder of the Handmaids of Mary Immaculate, the first religious congregation for women in the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite dedicated to the active apostolate; Jozef Bilczewski (1860-1923), Latin-rite archbishop of Lviv; and Father Zygmunt Gorazdowski (1845-1920), apostle of the poor of Lviv.