'Judge them not by their words but by their deeds'
BY FR. WERENFRIED VAN STRAATEN, C.R.P.
IT is not true that I. conditions for the persecuted Church have essentially improved. Those who seek their information from the Church persecutors or their henchmen may possibly think so. But we who are in the confidence of the persecuted after years of brotherly contact with them, have at our disposal sources of information that remain inaccessible to others. Everyone knows how people held their tongues in trains and buses on the continent during the littler occupation and how careful one had to be in airing one's opinions before strangers. Not a word more than was necessary would he spoken to anyone who hobnobbed with the enemy. Today, peoples who by deceit, treachery and violence have fallen under the power of the red dictatorship live under exactly the same oppression. They must be silent. They .cannot risk telling the truth to any stranger. But to them I am no stranger. For fifteen years I have done my utmost to relieve their misery and bring them a little solace and sympathy. They tell me a great deal more than they tell those who discovered the persecuted Church only when it appeared to stand in the way of good relations with the oppressors. And, on the evidence of the mass of incontestable facts in my possession. I cannot do otherwise than tell you that religious persecution in all its atrocity is still raging on.
Restrictions stepped up
Freedom to give and receive religious instruction is becoming more and more restricted. The checking of church attendance arid punitive measures against practising Catholics are becoming more severe than ever. In Russia 1.500 churches were closed last year. Separation of Church and State is a farce. The interference of party and government in the purely ecclesiastical field of administration and jurisdiction is undiminished. The training of new priests has been forcibly reduced to a ridiculous minimum. Parents have been denied the right to educate their children. The scandal of puppet-pastors and Quisling-prelates in continuing unabated. Compulsory atheistic education has become so inescapable that a young mother in the East was obliged to ask roe with tears in her eyes: "Father, ought we to have any more children? For we know for sure that we cannot get them into heaven." In this religious persecution it is not a question of the quantity of of blood that is spilt, but of the systematic strangling of all essential ecclesiastical organs and the total eradication of all forms of religion. And nothing of this has been changed by the release of an innocently convicted metropolitan who is dangerously
The Bishop who came back
One bishop did indeed return. Archbishop Josef Slipyji, metro
poIitan of Lemberg and last surviving Ukrainian bishop has been released after an unjust, inhuman and arbitrarily prolonged imprisonment of almost 18 years. The Pope, who received him with tears, gave him the best he had to give: the former dwelling of Cardinal Canali, so that the sometime convict, in spite of his humble protests, now lives in the red-damask-decorated apartments of the deceased Cardinal. He passes his time in prayer and study and prepares himself carefully for work in the unaccustomed field of a universal church in evolution. I suppose he will often be surprised to hear the grotesque conclusions that anxious, co-existential-minded Catholics are all too prematurely drawing from the fact of his release. His lips remain sealed, however, because, no doubt, like all other prisoners set free by the Soviets, he has had to promise to be silent about everything he has seen and suffered. He remains a member of the Silent Church because his place is in the Soviet Union. No true pastor willingly leaves his Rock to their own devices so that it is certain that he wishes to return to share the fortunes of his people. What need is there for him to talk about persecution? He carries the evidence of it on his own body.
Saved at 11th hour
This prince of the church is known to have a character of hon. His broken body harbours an unbroken spirit. He is the greatest theologian of the Ukrainian church and among all unified churchmen he is the most dogged champion of a purely Byzantine trend. Hence he forms a bridge to orthodoxy and is the born leader
of all Eastern church unified with Rome.
It is a blessing that the Pope has been able to save him at the eleventh hour for Church and Council. He is also a fervent spiritual guide who throughout the whole immense Soviet territory has left in camp after camp the ineradicable traces of his convincing sacerdotal life. Every time his influence became noticeable he was transferred to another penal settlement or another prison. Thus he became in Russia a generally known symbol, not only to Catholics but even more to the living orthodox church, which is to be found less with Nikodim than in the concentration camps of Siberia.
Judge by deeds
This martyred church that has atoned in blood and tears for the sins of the fathers, that pretesred to make atrocious sacrifices rather than share in the short-lived advantages of collaborators and excommunicated "peace" prieets, this despised and often deliberately forgotten Church of Silence is the true pledge of our salvation. We must continue to sustain this Church with our prayers and consolations until the fate of the millions of persecuted people has been alleviated. The present policy of the persecutors is to spare the shepherds and strike the Bock. Therefore a freed bishop is no proof for the freedom of the Church. As long as the Church is not free Slipyji's freedom remains Communistic deceit. The Church is still, however, as badly shackled as it has ever been. It is possible, of course, that Communism has now its reasons for pursuing a more moderate policy with regard to the Church. 11 would be irresponsible to exclude this possibility. But it would be just as irresponsible lightly to pass over the 45 years of Communistic wickedness and to negotiate with them as with normal partners. After all the ecclesiastical negotiators, from Ratti to Wyszynski, have been deceived by them, it would be wise to judge them not by their words but by their deeds These deeds are still to an undiminished degree aimed at the total destruction of the .Church. As long as there is no obvious change in this policy it is impossible for the Church to make a pact with Moscow without losing the confidence of the oppressed. And the confidence of the oppressed is more precious than any compromise with the oppressors. This is proved by the experience of the 19th century. In the 19th century the Church championed the cause of the poor and oppressed, for whom Christ actually came to bring the Gospel. too late and not manifestly enough. For which reason the Church has lost its hold on the people, for which our forefathers are rightly blamed.
The oppressed people of the present day are not, however, the handful of Communistic leaders, with whom it is desired to make peace at any price. These Communists are the oppressors and blood-suckers, mentioned in one breath with hard-hearted capitalists. who in the Europe of the 19th century and in the present-day depressed areas of the Free West are still enriching themselves with the blood of the poor.
Our generation is in no imaginary danger of being rightly accused of having once more abandoned the poor—among whom we must reckon the third part of humanity under Communistic dictatorship —in order to curry favour with their masters.
Letter from the East
I have received a letter from a bishop in Eastern Europe. He asks me for food for his seminary. He still has a seminary with 93 seminarists. For this he has had to pay taxes as if it were a luxury hotel. He has to hand over to the state 65 per cent of the boarding school fees paid for the boys by their poor parents. For the Communists assert that a seminary is a luxury hotel. The bishop is at the end of his iesources There is one tumbler between two seminarists. The boys have no sheets and no plates. They cat their food out of old food-tins and that in a luxury hotel! And they are literally starving. If no help comes from abroad the bishop will have to close his seminary.
This is a matter of 93 vocations for the persecuted Church. The bishop asks for food for his seminarists.
For 30s. we can buy a coupon in Switzerland. This can be legally sent to Eastern Europe and the bishop can exchange it for food So much is possible. In this way costs of transport and import duty are saved. For thirty shillings a starving student-priest can get a little extra food once in a fortnight? If you can do this no one will be able to reproach you for having left the poor to their own devices. We are not opposed to a conversation with Moscow if it is carried on by men qualified to do so. Nobody is more qualified than Pope John. If it is indeed his desire to talk with Khrushchey he will do so only to alleviate the intolerable misery of the 63 million Catholics. This is brave and fatherly of the Pope and may his name be praised. But it would be false of us if we were to prepare the way for such a conversation by ignoring the persecution. This would be shooting our brethren in the back. Only the truth can free us. There our testimony may not be silenced so that you might help the persecuted and pray for Khrushchev and the Pope. Werenfried van Straaten, C.R.P.
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