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Roots – Ukrainian Martyrs – They destroyed the body, but not the spirit.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Saint Pope John Paul II, during an official visit to Ukraine in 2001, declared 25 Ukrainian martyrs as blessed. Among them were men and women, priests, consecrated persons, and lay people who were ready to give everything because of their faith and love for Christ. Among these 25 martyrs, there were four of our Redemptorist brothers. Today I would like to tell you about our blessed ones.
At the beginning I would like to point at Bl. Ivan Ziatyk. When he joined the Redemptorist Congregation, he was already a priest. Regardless of his dignity and position (he was a lecturer at the seminary), he humbly accepted his new place in the religious community, starting his formation as a novice. He often volunteered himself for the most difficult jobs without thinking about his age. He grew up in holiness and humility. The confreres testified that, in the morning, he was the first to start work and the last to return to the monastery after work. He humbly accepted all the ministries entrusted to him. When the communists took power, the arrests of the Greek Catholic’s hierarchy began. For a short time, our church was entrusted to the care of Redemptorists from Belgium, which at that time was under German rule. Germany, on the other hand, had a treaty with Soviet Russia.
However, Belgium’s fathers were soon deported. During the displacement of our fathers from Belgium, one of them put his hand on the shoulder of our blessed Father Ivan Ziatyk and said: “I entrust this Church to your hands.” Soon, Father Ivan was arrested and sent to Siberia. There he was cruelly tortured, until one night they dragged him outside the camp, cruelly beat him and left him in the cold. Soon after that he died.
The next one I want to mention is bl. Zynoviy Kovalyk.
Zynoviy Kovalyk was a very cheerful man, full of joy and extremely witty. He tried to bring young people to the church. He was well known for his missionary zeal and apostolic spirit. Conducting retreats in various villages, he put a lot of his strength and commitment into bringing young people as close to Christ as possible with singing, jokes, and various unusual ideas. When the communists took power, he continued his open activity gathering people for common protests against the authorities and its deeds. He led processions in the streets of Lviv in honor of the Mother of God, often proclaiming opposition to what the authorities were doing to the Church of Christ. He received warnings that the communists would not tolerate him, but he, drawing on the Bible, often said, “I can’t be afraid of people without fearing God.”
Bl. Zynoviy was arrested and imprisoned in „Brygidki” prison in Lviv. When the Germans arrived, the communists decided to execute prisoners. They shot some of them. Zynoviy animated spiritual life in prison, leading common rosary, and other prayers. He openly said that he was a priest, so that prisoners could go to confession. He often preached Christ crucified and talked about the need to be ready to suffer with Christ. The guards, knowing all this, decided to deal with him particularly cruelly. They dragged him out of his cell and crucified him on the prison walls. Later, while he was still alive, they brought a prisoner who was expecting a child. They killed her in a beastly manner in front of him, pulled her unborn child from her womb, then cut his belly and nailed the child into him, They left him tortured and Zynoviy died in torment due to blood leakage.
The next two of our blessed were bishops. The first is Bishop Vasyl Velychkovskyi. When Cardinal Slipyj was to be sent to Rome, during a short stay in Moscow, he called Vasyl Velychkovskyi to himself and ordained him a bishop in a hotel room. He called him with the words: “Take nothing with you, because I have things to give to you.” In this way he gave him the “underground church”. Vasyl Velychkovskyi humbly accepted this treasure. He served the Church as much as he could, for which he was arrested and cruelly tortured. Due to his poor health, he was transferred to the hospital, where he was tortured again, and given injections to speed up his death. When the authorities learned that he was about to die, they feared that he would become another martyr of the Greek Catholic Church. They sent him to a family in Europe, giving him a passport, which, however, did not allow him to return to Ukraine. Despite his poor health, he traveled the diaspora of the faithful of the Greek Catholic Church and encouraged and supported our brothers from the underground church, without mentioning his own suffering.
After the exhumation that took place in Canada, everyone saw that his body was not only intact, but his muscles were still elastic. This was considered as a great miracle, but when the temporal remains of bishop Vasyl were examined, it was noticed that his toes were starting to rot. The sisters who looked after him during his lifetime explained the whole matter. Bishop Vasyl asked that this remain a mystery while he lived: his fingers, due to frostbite and torture experienced in Siberia, began to rot long before his death.
The last blessed is Mykolay Charnetskyi, the one who is first on the list of our 25 Ukrainian martyrs. Mykolay Charnetskyi is a great but gentle man, strong in his faith and full of hope. He suffered a lot during his deportation because of persecution. He endured over 600 hours of interrogation and abuse. Knowing his gift of converting people who stayed with him, the torturers urged other prisoners to torture him. The guards saw well what fate awaited new prisoners. During his more than 10 years in prison, he was in over 30 different camps and places of seclusion. He was assigned the hardest jobs. In old age, he lost his hearing due to the many injuries inflicted on him. When he worked as a smoker in one of the camps, a guard came to him and shouted for everyone to stop working because the captain was coming. Bl. Mykolay, unable to hear what he was saying, continued his work. The watchman was so vicious that when he approached him, he knocked him over and began to kick him. Mykolay Charnetskyi did not shout, he did not get angry, but his gentle gaze looked at the guard as he silently endured this cruel beating. Over time, the guard’s conscience began to bother him, as he remembered the gaze of Mykolay Charnetskyi. One night he secretly came to bishop Charnetskyi, intending to ask him for forgiveness. But Mykolay Charnetskyi, seeing him, ran to him, embraced him first, and said that he forgave him everything. After some time, this guard secretly brought his whole family to Mykolay. so that they could be baptized.
This is how our four blessed suffered. The Soviet authorities, who could destroy their bodies, did not conquer their spirit, their loyalty to Christ and their love.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Author: o. Taras Kchik CSsR
Translator: Dominik Król CSsR