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Theodore Romzha, bishop & martyr.

He suffered death rather than renounce union with Rome

A young bishop killed at the age of 36, Theodore Romzha's canonization cause was introduced in November 1997. He is one of the multitude of witnesses to the faith who paid with their lives for their fidelity to Christ and to the Church during the bloodstained 20th century. They were victims of the insane ideologies that sought to uproot the faith from European history in violent and treacherous ways.

Theodore Romzha carried out an intense mission for 36 years. Born in 1911 at Veliky Bychkiv in Transcarpathia, he saw his country's name changed at least five times.

After studying at the secondary school in Chust from 1922 to 1930, he was sent to the Pontifical German-Gregorian University in Rome. In September 1934, he transferred to the Russicum, while continuing his studies at the Gregorian. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Evreinov on Christmas Day 1936 in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Theodore Romzha returned home but was drafted into military service by Prague in 1937, since the Eparchy of Mukachevo was then located in Czechoslovakia. After experience in several Transcarpathian parishes, he was appointed spiritual director at the seminary and professor of philosophy. In September 1944 he was consecrated bishop in the Cathedral of Uzhorod. Latin-rite Bishop Janos Seffler of Satu Mare, Romania, and Bishop Istvan Madaras of Kosice were ordained with him. His episcopal mission began at that moment: three years into the tragedy of the Second World War.

The Carpathian region of Ukraine was the scene of dramatic events in the last century. Until 1918 the area belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It then became part of Czechoslovakia, until it too fell under Stalin's heel in 1944. The Greek Catholic Church in Transcarpathia was relentlessly persecuted and in 1949 was officially suppressed.

The young Byzantine-rite Bishop of Mukachevo found himself in a crisis. Shortly before the arrival of the Red Army, he wrote: "The frontier between Uzhorod and the Soviet Union is only 60 kilometers away--Whatever will be will be. My commitment is to my apostolic work precisely among them. I have no intention of running away--Besides, it would be no disgrace if they were to kill me. To die for Christ is to live for eternity".

When the Soviet army arrived in Uzhorod, the Bishop received a courteous visit from the commander, who "reassured" him about the future and even invited him to speak at the celebrations for the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The Bishop's text was obviously prudent: he thanked the Lord for the end of the war and exhorted the people to pray for a stable and lasting peace. The Soviets, however, were dissatisfied and had a doctored version of his speech published in the papers. This was the go-ahead for systematic persecution. Churches were occupied and assigned to the Orthodox Church. Priests were arrested. Bishop Romzha was asked to make a declaration supporting the regime. When he refused he was summoned by Soviet Generals Petrov and Mechlis to account for his action. Mechlis, the political commissar, shouted in his face that now was the moment to break with the Pope. Romzha's answer: "No".

The Soviets tempted certain priests to let themselves be arbitrarily named bishops on condition that they collaborate, but they found no takers. On June 29, 1945, Carpathian Ukraine was annexed to Soviet Ukraine. The situation now deteriorated rapidily. The more the regime tightened its grip, however, the more Bishop Romzha stuck to his pastoral missions. The last straw was the celebration of the Assumption on August 15, attended by 83,000 pilgrims of whom only 3,000 were Orthodox, the rest Catholics. Thereafter, the Soviets decided to kill him.

The account of his assassination reads like the script of a B-grade horror film. On 27 October 1947 the Bishop was returning from Lavki, where he had consecrated a church. He was accompanied by two priests and two seminarians. On the road between Cereivitsi and Ivanovtsi, a lorry filled with soldiers and police drove into the buggy at high speed, with the obvious intention of knocking it over and passing off the Bishop's death as an accident. The horses died instantly. The buggy was smashed to pieces, but Romzha and his companions survived the accident unscathed. Then the soldiers, armed with iron bars, attempted to finish the job. They kept hitting them until they appeared unconscious and were then left for dead. Some passers-by later came to their rescue and took them to the Mukachevo hospital. The priests and seminarians were discharged after a while, but Bishop Romzha stayed in the ward since his injuries were more serious.

As the days passed his condition improved. However, the Basilian Sisters who were nursing him were suddenly dismissed and replaced with a "trusted" nurse of the regime. It was she who murdered him on 1 November 1947, by poisoning him. He died saying: "O Jesus...".

In a short time there was almost nothing left of the Ukrainian Church. Five dioceses, 10 bishops, 3,500 priests, 1,000 sisters and 500 seminarians, along with schools, newspapers, and publishing houses, all vanished into nothing. Four million faithful were deprived of their shepherds. (L'Osservatore Romano Feb.7, 2001)
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Article Details
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Author:Mattei, Giampaolo
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Words:873
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