Vatican City, Dec 11, 2019 / 02:40 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis praised Wednesday the courage of the Ruthenian Eparchy of Mukachevo, which emerged from hiding 30 years ago after persecution in Soviet Ukraine.
Pilgrims from the eparchy met with the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 11 in celebration of the anniversary.
“I am happy to welcome you to the tomb of Saint Peter, and together with you I wish to thank the infinitely good Lord who with His powerful hand freed your Church from the long oppression of the Soviet regime,” Pope Francis said in their meeting.
“I also wish to remember your ancestors, grandparents and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, who in the intimacy of their homes, and often under the watchful eye of the hostile regime, risking their freedom and their lives, transmitted the teaching of the truth of Christ and offered to future generations, of whom you are representatives, an eloquent witness of firm faith, of living faith, of Catholic faith,” he said.
During the decades of Soviet suppression of the Byzantine rite Catholic Churches in Ukraine, 128 priests, bishops, and nuns were put in prisons or sent into exile in Siberia. The eparchy of Mukachevo had 36 priests martyred during the persecution.
The pope thanked the formerly underground community for their fidelity to Christ in the midst of persecution and martyrdom, saying that “the Church of Mukachevo is the mother of many martyrs, who with their own blood confirmed their fidelity to Christ, to the Catholic Church and to the Bishop of Rome.”
He recalled the martyred bishop, Blessed Theodore Romzha, “who in the darkest moments of your history was able to guide God’s people with evangelical wisdom and courage.”
Bl. Romzha was the Ruthenian Bishop of Mukachevo for three years before he was assassinated in 1947 by the NKVD on the orders of Nikita Khrushchev, who was then first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine.
Pope Francis praised Romzha as “a tireless man” who followed the example of Christ the Good Shepherd all the way to the point of giving his life for his flock.
Two years after Romhza’s death, the Byzantine rite Catholic Churches in Ukraine were completely suppressed by the Soviets, and remained underground for 41 years.
St. John Paul II beatified Romzha during a pastoral visit to Lviv in 2001.
Pope Francis said that “On this solemn occasion I pray the Lord to protect the eparchy of Mukachevo from the pitfalls of evil and to bestow every prosperity upon it.”
“As we approach the Christmas holidays, entrusting your pastors and all of you, dear faithful, to the protection of the Blessed Virgin of Mukachevo, I wish you a Holy Christmas: may the Son of God be born in your hearts,” he said.