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Pope recognises martyrs who died at the hands of communist and fascist regimes

By on Thursday, 28 March 2013

Pope Francis (AP)

Pope Francis (AP)

An Italian priest who died in a Nazi concentration camp and two victims of Soviet-bloc regimes during the Cold War were among those recognised as martyrs by Pope Francis.

According to a statement released by the Vatican, the Pope authorised decrees stating that Franciscan Father Giuseppe Girotti, an opponent of Italy’s fascist government who died at Dachau in 1945, was killed “in hatred of the faith.”

Pope Francis likewise recognised the martyrdom of Romanian Father Vladimir Ghika and Hungarian Salesian Brother Stephen Sandor, who were killed by their country’s communist regimes, in 1954 and 1953, respectively. The decrees prepare the way for the martyrs’ beatification, probably later this year.

Pope Francis authorised the Congregation for Saints’ Causes to promulgate equivalent decrees for Rolando Rivi, an Italian seminarian killed by communist partisans in 1945, during the last days of World War II; and for 58 persons, including the Bishop of Jaen, killed between 1936 and 1938 during the Spanish Civil War.

The Church normally requires a miracle to be attributed to the intercession of a deceased Catholic before he or she may be beatified, but that requirement does not apply to recognised martyrs. A miracle is required before any blessed may be canonised.

Also on March 27, Pope Francis recognised a miracle attributed to German Sister Maria Teresa Bonzel, founder of the Sisters of St Francis of Perpetual Adoration, who died in 1905.

Among the seven whom the Pope recognised for their “heroic virtues” were Mexican Father Moses Lira Serafin, founder of the Missionaries of Charity of Mary Immaculate, who died in 1950; and Oblate Brother Anthony Kowalczyk, who was born in Poland but died in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1947. Brother Kowalczyk spent the last three-and-a-half decades of his life working as a blacksmith and gardener at a frontier school in western Canada.

Now recognised as “venerable,” each is eligible for beatification if a miracle can be attributed to his intercession.

  • Benedict Carter

    I’d like to share a story about one martyr for the Catholic Faith who I was privileged to know a little. She didn’t lose her life for Christ but suffered grievously for her Catholic Faith at the hands of the Church’s sworn enemies.

    It is the Winter of 1941. The German armies threaten Moscow. The cold is the worst for
    many decades. In the centre of Moscow, just a stone’s throw from the Kremlin and its surrounding streets is a prison, also the headquarters (it remains so to this day) of one of the most evil organisations in the world’s history. The prison is the Lubyanka, and the organisation is the NKVD (later the KGB).

    In one of its underground cells is a girl, a student. Her name is Margarite. Not the usual Russian “Margarita” but “Margarite”. She is the daughter of a Russian father and a Polish mother. She has been arrested for becoming a Catholic.

    A clever student, she had started that fateful academic year at MGU (Moscow State University) in the Faculty of Foreign Languages. One day, she walks past the Catholic Church of St. Louis (given to the Catholic diplomats to the Russian Court by Tsarina Catherine II in 1799: as it happens, the church lies just 200 or 300 metres from the Lubyanka). It is the only Catholic Church allowed in Russia by the Soviets. On an impulse truly from God, this girl, brought up all her life as an atheist, walks into the Church and tells the one priest allowed by the Communists that she wishes to become a Catholic. Greatly suspicious of an NKVD provocation, he says “no”, but she comes back and eventually he is persuaded of her genuineness and baptises her.

    That night, she tells her best friend in the University dormitory that she has been baptised and the next day she is arrested.

    Her best friend had betrayed her to the NKVD. She received eight years in the Camps.

    In 2008, during the Summer. I got a call from Father Ryan asking me to assist him at
    the burial of old Margarite. I know a little of her story, but none of the details. I had met her at Father Ryan’s English Mass in the crypt of the Catholic Cathedral in Moscow several times (a decrepit and nearly blind old lady, always with her devoted friend Svetlana). On one occasion she had looked me in the eyes and held my gaze seemingly forever, searching my soul (I felt that I failed the test). I knew this was a special lady. Her eyes were deep pools of memory and suffering.

    On the appointed day, Father and I met at her home. A small Soviet flat. Poorly furnished with the usual Soviet furniture (but scrupulously clean); a few photographs and many books. There were a few people there in all, about four or five. Propped up on two old wooden chairs was the coffin, which was open: Father and I sang the “Salve Regina” and he said a few impromptu prayers. The hearse (a rickety old minibus) arrived and the workers asked us to leave the flat. To get the coffin down the narrow stairwell, they had to take Margarite’s body out of it and put it back in once they have maneuvered the coffin out of the flat. They didn’t want us to see them do it.

    We boarded the bus and were stuck in traffic for an hour and a half before we reached the cemetery. Once we found the plot, we had to pull out overgrown weeds which obstructed any view of the grave that had been dug. Father blessed the grave with Holy Water and I lit the incense in the thurible. We sang some hymns, Father said a short version of the burial service, and that is that. I felt very tearful.

    And so was laid to rest Margarite, a soul who suffered in Stalin’s Camps for her Catholic Faith, which she kept until the day she died.

    The fall of the satanic cult of Communism was a happy day for her. Even more, the restoration of the Church in Russia was a day of great joy. She made herself known to the first Catholic Archbishop and was asked to help translate the Novus Ordo into Russian, which she did. She attended Mass every Sunday, whenever her ailments allowed. She and Father Ryan came to know each other and were very fond of each other.

    It was a very great honour for me to know this martyr for the Faith, a great honour. Someone who put a human face on all those books I had read about the GuLAG by Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, Marchenko and others. Someone who had known suffering, true suffering, but who lived her life loving and trusting Our Lord.

    May God forgive her her sins, take her into His arms and grant her eternal rest and
    peace! Of your charity, please pray for the soul of a true Catholic, a Russian lady called Margarite.

  • Charles

    Let there be no mistake that Communism was by far history’s greatest evil for the sheer numbers of people they killed and tortured; numbering in the hundreds of millions. The modern day socialists in Latin America and the U.S. ie Kirschner and Obama, are guilty of flirting with the same type of evil, just on a slightly watered down level.

  • Benedict Carter

    400 million according to the famous “Black Book of Communism”. A religion of demons and death-worship.

  • Frank

    Thanks for sharing this with us Benedict. We see courage and powerful witness in parishes everywhere and in so many ways but the way in which some are called and respond to God’s Grace is inspiring.

  • agent.provocateur

    Excuse me, Black Book of Communism??? Are you serious??!!!

  • Pope Zicola

    Brilliant post, Benedict! How many more like her suffered the way she did?
    I also pray that Polish priest, Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, will be canonised.

  • Pope Zicola

    I’d say Obama is far from watered-down in his ideologies. He’s selling the USA down the river big style…

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