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Communism, from The Vigil, Special Issue 1992

Our Blessed Mother Told Mari-Loli
"In a Certain Moment… at a Certain Time, It Will Look as Though The Church is Finished." When I Asked Her What is This Called? She Said: "Communism..."

The following story is so horrifyingly true, that the author has made me promise never to reveal his identity, so I will use his pen name "John." I heard so many tragic stories like his, directly from some of those nuns, priests and lay people who actually lived through the nightmare of Atheistic-Communism. Even though they were willing to tell me what happened to them, it was only under the condition that I would not publish their names. The people in the Slovakia side of the country are very, very frightened that they could still be killed...

Czechoslovakia. February 1949. The long prepared communist plan to take over is coming true - the reds are coming to power, using dirty tricks supported by a manipulated crowd chanting outside. Dirty propaganda and demagogy and thirst for power once again worker well. And it was not for the last time in the next 49 years...To say how exactly this happened is a job for a historian. I will try to let you know about the persecution the Church in Czechoslovakia had to get through from then on.

As many of you certainly know, communism was born in Russia. And it spread terribly well and still does! What is behind communism? A thirst for power because the structure of this ideology, once it comes to power, does enable thousands of people to participate and to do well, but causes suffering to millions. In my opinion, that thirst for power is only a devil's tool to destroy the world morally and, first of all, to destroy the Mother Church and Christ in Her. History proved it many times. In every country where communism came to power, it was the Church that suffered first for the simple reason that communism did not need the Church teaching people to love God and each other, to be good and moral and respectful. That is contrary to what communism wants: to rule the world, and that is possible only by using violence of all kinds -spiritual, psychological and especially physical. To reach this goal communism wants to get rid of the Church in order to eliminate Her influence on people, so they can be more easily manipulated and able to perform the above-mentioned violence. Czechoslovakia was not an exception at all.

In 1950during one single night all cloisters in the country were closed forcibly. Nuns and monks were detained, concentrated in special detention centers and lived there as in prison, doing hard work, having poor living conditions, suffering from cold, hunger and illnesses, many times without medical care, being treated like animals. Many of them were put in prison without being sentenced. They could not do their original work - caring for others - and yet they were needed badly in schools and hospitals.

About 1800 Catholic schools were abolished and publicly declared state ones. The crosses had to be taken out of the classrooms. Also, practically all church and Christian organizations - educational institutions, clubs, shelters, Christian civil associations, publishing houses and printing plants - were abolished in the few year.. after the communists came to power. The great majority of religious literature was burnt and new works were not allowed to be published. All truly religious newspapers and magazines were banned. All church estates and properties, including lands and fields, were nationalized forcibly - in order to prevent the Church from functioning practically. All church teachers were fired. Religion as a subject was banned in schools; it could not be taught publicly anymore. All public church documents and letters were censored, including the Bishops' Pastoral Letters. Still 5 years ago. 12 dioceses in Czechoslovakia were without bishops and there was and still is a great need for priests. The number of students in the seminaries was under strict control, and it was minimized and limited. Also, the orders were not allowed to accept new members - they were doomed to extinction. Thank God, they survived.

The communist government had its "church policy": 1) to limit the work of bishops and to isolate them from priests. 2) to eliminate the influence of the Vatican, 3) to establish a new pro-government Catholic organization and a special government office for church affairs, 4) to support collaborating priests, 5) to transform gradually the Catholic Church into a so-called "national church", 6) to interfere in Catholic establishments, 7) to get rid of the zealous priests.

And they really meant it. Many priests, also bishops, nuns and monks and active lay people, were put in the prisons on ridiculous charges, such as that they were enemies of the state, spies, or that they had broken a state law dealing with church affairs, etc. The majority of them experienced psychological terror and physical torture. Many of them were murdered, either in the prisons or in their homes or presbyteries, or just died from malnutrition, sickness and exhaustion in labor camps. The communists even demanded bishops to declare their loyalty to the government publicly, to cancel the suspensions of the collaborating priests and suspend priests who were sentenced by the government.

The "church policy" of the state had three goals: 1) to obtain the attention and loyalty of believers through the press (communist newspapers and magazines) depicting the church hierarchy as a servant of a foreign power - The Vatican - so that the state might adopt laws that would allow control over the Church and punish their breaking. 2) to isolate the bishops and establish a pro-government "Union of Catholics" that would then "negotiate" with the government. 3) to create a so-called "national church" with its own bishops.

Real devil's work. But it was not enough. All priests were followed everywhere they went. Their work was monitored and controlled. Special officers of the state police attended Holy Mass and recorded the homilies. Collaborating priests were associated in the so-called "Pace in Terris" (originally "Catholic Action"), a pro-government organization, to give the impression that the Church was cooperating with the communist government. They were advising the government about what methods to use against the bishops and Church. They advised people who were appointed in Bishops' offices as "state deputies" to have everything under control. All spiritual and theological exercises and young people's meetings were banned. Students in the seminaries had a compulsory subject a "Philosophy of Marxism-Leninism." All priests had to have a license from the state. Any priest who publicly spoke out (even in hints, for example, during his homily against all his oppression) had his license taken away. And if he then offered holy mass. they would put him straight in prison, for breaking the laws, dealing with state relations towards the Church.

Many priests then worked underground, educating young people and students - future secretly ordained priests. It was extremely difficult because they were followed by state police. They even had to go to work. To go to work was compulsory in communist countries. But in the references they had from their previous employers was written that they were priests and "problematic" citizens so everybody was afraid to employ them. But if they were not employed for some time - you had to have a stamp on your ID from your employer - they were put in prison for breaking the law of duty to work. The same things were happening to laymen, who were "too-active" working with youth, organizing pilgrimages, etc., or helping the priests, cooperating with "problematic" priests. Many lay people ended up in prison, too.

Ordinary believers had to be careful as well. State police were photographing people coming out of church, recording everything at the pilgrimages, using camcorders, etc. People working for Public Services, The Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, Correction Services, Education (e.g. teachers) were fired automatically if they publicly acknowledged they were believers. They then had great difficulties getting a proper job. Usually, they could not. Their children experienced psychological terror at schools, where the collaborating teachers checked how many children went to church, prayed before going to bed or believed in God. They also asked what children attended private religion lessons. That all had to be written in their Study Report. Those children afterwards had problems when they wanted to be enrolled at college or university. Many, many of them were not allowed to do so. I remember myself being a university student, having to study ridiculous subjects that had nothing to do with my profession, like the international workers' movement, philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, scientific communism and the most ridiculous one. scientific atheism. If I told the lecturer that all of that was just rubbish and that I believe in God, I would be kicked out of the university that same day.

This is what was happening behind the Iron Curtain. It was all aimed at destroying the Church and created an atmosphere of fear. People were really afraid to talk about religion and politics publicly: they knew what could follow. Children were confused, learning first at home about God and then, later on, hearing at school that God does not exist. Official propaganda was really strong. There were no religious articles in communist magazines and newspapers, except the ones criticizing religion. the priests, orders, many times in very offensive ways. And yet, there was no opportunity to get different magazines and newspapers, not to mention books. We have really been isolated here, when it comes to information and media. We always learnt only that news that the communists wanted us to learn, what they put in the newspapers and on TV news. The radio broadcasts - Voice of America, Free Europe, BBC's "London is Calling" - were the only real means through which we could learn the real, true and complete news about what was happening in our country, as well as from German and Austrian television in the parts of Czechoslovakia neighboring these two countries. Religious life had been pushed out of public and limited to the churches and private homes. This all meant a fear among people, loss of confidence, broken friendships, worsening of human relationships, high divorce and abortion rates, cases where parents were standing against their own children who were gifted by faith.

Can you imagine a human being, brought up in a family where his parents do not practice their faith, going to the schools in which he is told that God is only an illusion, religion is rubbish, the correct ideology is only a materialistic one and that "Mother Nature" is most powerful, and yet there is practically no source from which he can learn something else, something different, like a history of the Church, lives of the saints, miracles, the real meaning of the Sacraments, or have opportunities to change his heart and serve the Lord and people? There are thousands and thousands of these victims of communism in Czechoslovakia, who automatically say, "of course, there is no God, there is nothing to support that." At best they say "We do not care." I can remember myself very well how I felt reading underground religious literature for the first time in my life when I was 20 years old. I experienced a real explosion of my brain, a real revolution in my mind. It has been just fantastic and from then on, nothing could take that peace away from my soul, except my own sins. I can remember the only public protest against religious oppression. It was a small demonstration in the city. People were doing nothing other than praying and holding candles in their hands. The communists responded typically: with water cannons, dogs and truncheons. Many people were beaten and hurt as well as arrested.

Communism is a real cancer of the 20th century, a real evil victory over weak people's minds. And this evil is not giving up: in 1989, when the communist government fell. freedom came. The worst was over. The new government started first of all to rebuild the economy that was near collapse. Logically, the prices for everything went up and our not-very-high living standard got even lower. All of this hit particularly hard the eastern half of Czechoslovakia – the Slovak Republic, which has a high unemployment rate. People in Slovakia are really dissatisfied -I would say impatient - and they expressed that: in the latest elections in June, they voted for leftist parties (!), so now in Slovakia, we have many former and present communists in the parliament and government again. People just got caught on their promises once again. It is a real tragedy, a communist heritage, when people still separate their religious and public life (only 10% voted for Christian Democratic Party), and yet Slovakia is supposed to be predominantly Catholic! Well, not anymore. I would like to stress that we do not need the worlds' condemnation or sorrow, we just beg for your prayers; they can still save us. Although religious oppression is not imminent, I am sure that the devil will find its way. It will be either a moral tragedy of our people or a dissatisfaction of the people, violently expressed in the public, if they do not get from the new government what they expect from it - basically higher wages and a better life.

We beg and thank you for your prayers...

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