Two Patrons for True Ecumenism

Two great saints, Josaphat (martyred, 1623) and Andrew Bobola (martyred, 1657), who shed their blood in the same century and for the same cause, we propose as patrons for true ecumenism. The “ecumenism” we hear so much about since Vatican II is a new phenomenon in the Church; and neither of our two saints would have recognized it as truly Catholic. It is certainly not the cause for which, with true Christian charity, they were happy to shed their blood. Modern ecumenism is originally a Protestant movement whose principles were condemned by many popes, most notably in the Encyclical Mortalium Animos of Pope Pius XI in 1928.

By true ecumenism, we mean that bond of doctrine and government that unites into one body all Catholics in every country, race or nation, throughout the inhabited world (ecumena). In action, true ecumenism seeks to bring all men to that unity which is already a reality in the Catholic Church. It is true ecumenism that ought to be the core of the devotion and prayer intentions of every true Catholic.

St. Josaphat (1582-1623)

Josaphat Kuncewicz was born to a family of the Eastern Rite. During his early youth, many Christians of that tradition, cooperating with the grace of their baptism, sought to regain unity with the Catholic Church under the authority of the Pope in Rome. This movement led to the historic Union of Brest which took place in 1596, when our saint was about 14 years old. This Union was achieved during the pontificate of Pope Clement VIII, and with the enthusiastic support of Sigismond III, King of Poland (1587-1632). Needless to say, it was the occasion of great joy and celebration throughout Christendom. The Union adopted the principles of the Council of Florence (1439), an Ecumenical Council that for a time succeeded in uniting Christians of the East and of the West. Unfortunately, this was of very short duration. The Union of Brest, on the other hand, had more lasting results, and there are today millions of Catholics of the Eastern Rite who owe their Catholicity to it.

However, the Union of Brest also suffered opposition from many in the East, both in the hierarchy and among the people, who refused to accept the authority of the Pope. This faction was supported by schismatic Russia, the same Russia that later would become the center of world Communism.

Saint Josaphat

Saint Josaphat Kuncewicz

St. Josaphat’s family was one that shared the joy of the overwhelming majority in Christendom at the Union which unquestionably reflected the desires of the Sacred Heart, and the young boy was inspired with the vision of extending that victory for the Kingdom of Christ to all the people who remained outside the “one fold and one shepherd.”

St. Josaphat loved the beautiful liturgy of the Eastern tradition in which he was raised, and defended it with all his energies. Were he living in our time in the West, he would be fighting against the Liberals of the Novus Ordo revolution that has been on-going in the wake of Vatican II. But beautiful liturgy benefits no one if it is offered outside of the True Church. Over and above his devotion to the traditional Eastern liturgy, therefore, the saint labored for the oneness of the Church, an intention for which Christ prayed, and for which the Holy Spirit works unceasingly in the hearts of all who cooperate with His grace.

With this ideal in view, St. Josaphat consecrated himself from his earliest youth to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who would protect his virtue and sustain his resolve. At the age of 20, he was received into the Basilian Order and became a monk in the monastery of the Holy Trinity in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. As a monk, he was exemplary in his obedience and mortifications, and in observing heroically the perfections of religious life. He would have wanted to remain in this humble state all his life, but was obliged against his will to accept the title and responsibilities of Archimandrite (superior) of his monastery, and later to be elevated to the archbishopric of the city of Polotsk in White Russia.

But no matter in what state or station, he never forgot his vowed dedication to fight for the oneness of the Church, a oneness that can only result from recognition of the unique authority of the pope. His great success in laboring for this end, and the many converts he was winning to the cause of unity, made him inimical to the antagonists of unity. Consequently, he was hated and persecuted relentlessly by many of those for whose eternal salvation he was inflamed with the fire of true love.

Eventually, as the Archbishop was making a pastoral visitation in the city of Vitebsk, on November 12, 1623, a band of his hateful enemies rushed him with axes and spears, and threw his slain body into a river. He became the victim of the spirit of schism, the fundamental error of Russia, which is still today the main concern of heaven _ as Our Lady let us know in her Fatima apparition in this century.

Here is how the Church officially remembers St. Josaphat in the Breviary:

“Josaphat Kuncewicz was born of noble Catholic parents at Vladimir in Volhynia. When a child, as he was listening to his mother telling him about the Passion of Christ, a dart issued from the image of Jesus crucified and wounded him in the heart. Set on fire with the love of God, he began to devote himself with such zeal to prayer and other works of piety that he was the admiration and the model of his older companions. At the age of twenty he became a monk under the Rule of St. Basil, and made wonderful progress in evangelical perfection. He went barefoot even in the severe winter of that country; he never ate meat, drank wine only when obliged by obedience, and wore a rough hair-shirt until his death. The flower of his chastity, which he had vowed in early youth to the Virgin Mother of God, he preserved unspotted. He soon became so renowned for virtue and learning, that in spite of his youth he was made superior of the monastery of Byten; soon afterwards he became archimandrite of Vilna; and lastly, much against his will but to the great joy of Catholics, he was chosen archbishop of Polotsk.

“In this dignity he relaxed nothing of his former manner of life; and had nothing so much at heart as the divine service and the salvation of the sheep entrusted to him. He energetically defended Catholic faith and unity and laboured to the utmost of his power to bring back schismatics and heretics to communion with the See of blessed Peter. The Sovereign Pontiff and the plenitude of his power he never ceased to defend, both by preaching and by writings full of piety and learning, against the most shameless calumnies and errors of the wicked. He vindicated episcopal rights, and restored ecclesiastical possessions which had been seized by laymen. Incredible was the number of heretics he won back to the bosom of mother Church; and the words of the Popes bear witness to how greatly he promoted the union of the Greek and Latin churches. His revenues were entirely expended in restoring the beauty of God’s house, in building dwellings for consecrated virgins, and in other pious works. So bountiful was he to the poor that, on one occasion, having nothing wherewith to supply the needs of a certain widow, he ordered his Omophorion, or episcopal pallium, to be pawned.

“The great progress made by the Catholic faith so stirred up the hatred of wicked men against the soldier of Christ, that they determined to put him to death. He knew what was threatening him; and foretold it when preaching to the people. As he was making his pastoral visitation at Vitebsk, the murderers broke into his house, striking and wounding all whom they found. Josaphat meekly went to meet them, and accosted them kindly, saying: “My little children, why do you strike my servants? If you have any complaint against me, here I am.” Hereupon they rushed on him, overwhelmed him with blows, pierced him with their spears, and at length dispatched him with an axe and threw his body into the river. This took place on the twelfth of November, 1623, in the forty-third year of his age. His body, surrounded with a miraculous light, was rescued from the waters. The martyr’s blood won a blessing first of all for his murderers; for, being condemned to death, they nearly all abjured their schism and repented of their crime. As the death of this great bishop was followed by many miracles, Pope Urban VIII granted him the honours of beatification. On the third of the Calends of July, 1867, when celebrating the centenary of the princes of the apostles, Pius IX in the Vatican basilica, in the presence of the College of Cardinals, and of about five hundred Patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops of every rite, assembled from all parts of the world, solemnly enrolled among the Saints this great defender of the Church’s unity, who was the first Oriental to be thus honoured. Pope Leo XIII extended his Mass and Office to the universal Church.”

St. Andrew Bobola (1591-1657)

St. Andrew Bobola was of a prominent Polish family, Catholic in the Western tradition. At the time of the Union of Brest in 1596, he was a child of five. With his pious family, even at that tender age, he must have shared the joy of the Catholic world. When St. Josaphat was martyred in 1623, St. Andrew was already a Jesuit, having been received into the Society of Jesus when he was about 19 years old.

One can imagine the contrast between the two saints. Seen in pictures we have of St. Josaphat, he could have been any archimandrite or prelate in Athens or in Damascus. St. Andrew, on the other hand, must have looked like any Jesuit in Paris or in Boston. Yet, despite differences in appearance accounted for by the culture and liturgical traditions of each, the two saints were inflamed with the same zeal for the one-ness of Holy Church. What thoughts and what aspirations arose in the heart of the young Jesuit at the news of the martyrdom of the archbishop, we can only surmise.

Saint Andrew Bobola

Saint Andrew Bobola

St. Andrew was ordained in 1622, one year before the martyrdom of St. Josaphat. The inspiring history of St. Andrew Bobola was recounted in a book published by St. Benedict Center in 1953 (now out of print). Extracts from the book, which bore the title Saints to Know and Love, are offered below, set off by quotation marks.

“In 1630, when he was forty years old, Andrew Bobola was appointed rector of one of the Jesuit colleges in Lithuania. He held this position for five years, and then asked leave to resign in order to become a full-time missionary. The request was granted, and Andrew Bobola began to do the work he had wanted to do from the time he entered the Jesuit Order, the work God had meant him to do, the work at which he would spend the rest of his life.

“Andrew Bobola went about his missionary labors with such fervor, love, and wholehearted dedication that God must have found it impossible not to be delighted with him and to make his work fruitful. Never did Andrew Bobola miss an opportunity to save a soul. He would overtake travelers on the road and walk along with them, in the hope of converting them or strengthening them in their Faith. He would seek out the sick to console them, and the dying to give them the Last Sacraments. Everywhere he would spread especial devotion to Our Lady and the Holy Eucharist, founding sodalities in Our Lady’s honor. His favorite apostolate was to children, still uninfected with heresy and schism, to whom he would teach the Faith so strongly and lovingly that they would never forget it. The number of conversions was in the tens of thousands. At times he won from the Russian schism whole dioceses with their bishops. ‘The hunter of souls,’ he was called by those who loved him; and by the schismatics, ‘the robber of souls.'”

Among the many enemies our “robber of souls” gained for himself were the Cossacks, a fierce tribe who had recently adopted the Eastern schism under Russian auspices. A band of Cossacks went seeking his life and caught up with him on the way to a town call Janow, when he was on one of his missionary journeys. The Cossacks tried to compel him to renounce the Faith. Failing that, they treated him to tortures so barbaric as to be described by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which studied his cause for canonization, as “the most cruel ever recorded.” Before death finally delivered him from their tortures, he uttered the following profession of faith:

“You may put my courage to the test, but if you do, you shall see what wonders God will work in my body this day. I believe and I confess that just as there is only one true God, so there is only one true Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and only one true Faith, the Catholic Faith, which Jesus Christ revealed and the Apostles preached. For that Faith I will gladly die, as the Apostles and so many martyrs have died before me.”

The authors of Saints to Know and Love continue,

“It is significant that Russian hatred of St. Andrew Bobola was so great, that even after they had killed him, the Russians would not leave him undisturbed. When he was beatified (in 1853), they ripped the pages containing his Office from the Breviaries. And as recently as 1922, Russian Communists, carrying on the tradition of the schismatics, opened the saint’s sealed tomb and desecrated his body, then shipped it off to a medical museum in Moscow, to keep the Poles from venerating it.”

However, in the very same year, 1922, a great famine began in Russia; and the Catholic world, under the leadership of the Pope, was pouring tons of provisions into the country. Two young American Jesuits were sent to Russia by Pope Pius XI in charge of the relief mission. Under these circumstances, the Jesuit Fathers, using their best diplomacy, finally persuaded the Communists to allow the removal of the Saint’s body to Rome. When the Saint was canonized by the same pope, Pius XI, in 1938, his relics were returned in triumph to Poland, and were deposited in the great Jesuit church in Warsaw.

As recorded above, St. Andrew Bobola’s last thought was that he was offering his life blood in imitation of the Apostles. And unquestionably, St. Josaphat bore the same thought when meeting his martyrdom 34 years earlier. When the cloud of paganism dominated ancient Rome, no two names were more hateful to the Romans that those of Peter and Paul. Yet, it is readily acknowledged nowadays that no two men ever loved Rome more than they. In the same way, the names of Josaphat and Andrew Bobola still remain the object of hate in the eastern world. But when the spirit of schism ultimately is driven out of the East, the names of those two saints will become universally loved and revered throughout the world.

St. Josaphat and St. Andrew Bobola, pray with us to hasten the arrival of that blessed day!

Dom Guéranger on St. Josaphat and the Conversion of Russia

Russia becoming Catholic would mean an end to Islamism, and the definitive triumph of the Cross upon the Bosphorus, without any danger to Europe; the Christian empire in the East restored with a glory and a power hitherto unknown; Asia evangelized, not by a few poor isolated priests, but with the help of an authority greater than that of Charlemagne; and lastly, the Slavonic race brought into unity of faith and aspirations, for its own greater glory. This transformation will be the greatest event of the century that shall see its accomplishment; it will change the face of the world.

Is there any foundation for such hopes? Come what may, St. Josaphat will always be the patron and model of future apostles of the Union in Russia and in the whole Græco-Slavonic world. By his birth, education, and studies, by the bent of his piety and all his habits of life, he resembled far more the Russian monks of the present day than the Latin prelates of his own time. He always desired the ancient liturgy of his Church to be preserved entire and even to his last breath he carried it out lovingly, without the least alteration or diminution, just as the first apostles of the Christian faith had brought it from Constantinople to Kiev. May prejudices born of ignorance be obliterated; and then, despised though his name now is in Russia, St. Josaphat will no sooner be known than he will be loved and invoked by the Russians themselves.

Our Graeco-Slavonian brethren cannot much longer turn a deaf ear to the invitations of the Sovereign Pontiff. Let us hope, then, that the day will come, and that before very long, when the wall of separation will crumble away for ever, and the same hymn of thanksgiving will echo at once under the dome of St. Peter’s and the cupolas of Kiev and of St. Petersburg.

“The Most Cruel Ever Recorded”

Editor’s Introduction: We caution our readers that the following description of St. AndrewBobola’s martyrdom is of an extremely graphic nature. It describes in detail one of the cruelest martyrdoms in recorded history.

The Cossacks got down from their horses and immediately began their first “persuasive” attempts to convert their victim to the orthodox religion. Insults, threats, and praises, shattered themselves on the stony firmness of the Saint. Then they unclothed the aged ascetic, tied him to a hedge, whipped him with the terrible “nagaiche” until the blood came, and struck his face so hard that some of his teeth were knocked out. Blood issued from his mouth, accustomed as it was to speak only words of kindness and benediction, and flowed down through his hoary beard onto his throbbing chest.

Next they made a crown of fresh twigs from an oak tree and wound it tightly around his head. Then binding his hands, they fastened him between two horses and made him traverse the Via Dolorosa which led to Janow, some two miles away, raising him with blows from their whips and lances when pain and exhaustion felled him to the ground. To his body, marked with red furrows from the whipping and the green crown, they added two deep wounds and a cut from a sword thrust on his left arm.

As soon as the infamous train reached Janow, sarcasm, insults and invectives came from all sides against the noble head bent in agony. Some said: “There is a Pole, a priest of the Roman faith, who seeks to dissuade people from our religion and to convert them to his Polish faith.” These words were the accusation, the evidence of his faults, and the testimony of his murderers to martyrdom.

A Cossack, perhaps the leader of the band, angered by the firmness of Bobola, unsheathed his sword and brought it down on the martyr, who instinctively bent a little and raised his right arm to defend his head. The blow severed three fingers from his right hand and almost struck his head. Our hero was spared that time only to be done to death, little by little, in slow torture.

One must not be horrified by the story of this martyrdom which is recognized by many as one of the most cruel that was ever recorded It is the epic of a hero and one should find words for it as clear-cut as a bas-relief, as clear-cut and strong as his faith. He accepted the torture of the executioners because it was pleasing to him; perhaps his greatest pain was for the tortures which they were inflicting on their own souls. He suffered, aided by the grace of God, without a sign of bewilderment or weakness. Their one desire was that they might glory in the defeat of the apostle of Pinsk. He suffered without asking for pause because he was the happy giver and he made his sad offering to his Crucified Lord with the aristocratic beauty of true love that gives of itself without stint or complaint.

Between two lines of horror-stricken people, curious and terrified, they brought him to a butcher’s shop in the market place, dragging him by one foot, stretched him out on the butcher’s table, and then locked the door.

And so the torture continued. A new refusal to embrace the schism and they charred the body already covered with festering sores. While they were splitting the tips of his fingers by forcing sharp splinters under the nails, they cried out in mockery: “With these hands you make God, but we will treat you better than Jesus was treated.”

As they tore the skin from his hands, they chided him saying: “With these hands you turn the pages of books in the church, but we shall turn your flesh.” Again they tore the skin, now from the head and chest, remarking: “You put on the chasuble, but we shall adorn you even better; you have too small a tonsure on your head, but we shall make you a larger one.”

Placing him face down, they tore the skin from his back and rubbed the live flesh with straw and wheat chaff, mutilated his nose and lips, two thumbs, and the index finger of his left hand, and cut out the palms of both. They even dug out one of his eyes. “Deny your Roman faith,” they kept demanding, but the hero kept repeating the holy names of Jesus and Mary.

Then they witnessed something too supernatural to be confused with vain stoicism. This old man, who had found a mysterious strength to support his spasmodic tortures, was able to find the serene sweetness of the word which pardons and invites an offender to see his error. From that mouth, torn and full of blood, instead of denial or complaint, there was a mysterious urging for his torturers to be converted to the true church.

“You, rather, be converted. My dear sons, what are you doing? May God be with you and make you turn in your hearts against your anger.”

But the murderers, cursing and blaspheming, only threw themselves upon him again with renewed fury. One cannot hear words of redeeming pardon in the fury of diabolical anger. In the words of this man, as in those of his Master, there was a charm to be avoided. His eloquent tongue had attracted thousands of souls and, cutting it off at the root, they pulled it out through an open cut in the nape of the neck.

Even after two hours of torture the butchers were not satisfied; on the contrary, the firmness of the Martyr and the sight of blood excited them anew to a paroxysm of cruelty. After hammering a butcher’s awl into the body in the vicinity of the heart, they bound the feet of the dying saintly old man and hung him up, head down. He was bathed in the scarlet mantle of his own blood, the color worn on the feast of a martyr.

The Cossacks laughed. They laughed scornfully at the starts and convulsions of the dying man hanging there, saying: “See how the Pole dances.” Finally, they cut the rope and ended it all with a blow of a cavalry-sabre . . . Suddenly the alarm was sounded. The Poles were coming. They had to flee. In a flash the land was rid of the Cossacks. The long looked-for calm had finally come, but Father Bobola was dead.

(From The Life of St. Andrew Bobola , by Fr. Louis Gallagher and Paul Donovan.)