Martyrdom Unites Us With All Believers

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Canonization of Martyrs of Kosice, Slovakia on July 2, 1995

1. "Te Deum laudamus, Te Dominum confitemur. Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur...."

Together with all of you, dear Brothers and Sisters, I wish to intone this "Te Deum" on Slovak soil, here in Kosice. Indeed, the cult of the Martyrs of Kosice has been linked to this city and to this Church for several centuries. We thus return to the Hymn "Te Deum laudamus" in which we proclaim: "Te gloriosus apostolorum chorus. Te prophetarum laudabilis numerus, Te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.

We usually associate the colour red with the liturgical commemoration of martyrdom. Even though the Ambrosian Hymn speaks of the "white-robed army who shed their blood for Christ—candidatus—this has a basis in the Book of Revelation, where the Apostle John declares that the martyrs "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of Lamb" (Rev 7:14). This is a remarkable reflection of the mystery of Redemption, in which the Church shares through all the saints who praise God's name.

2. Today, while I have the joy here, in Kosice, Slovakia, of presiding at the liturgy of the canonization of its martyrs, I also wish to recall all the saints whom your beloved land has known in the twelve centuries of its Christian history. The first of this great army are the Apostles of the Slavs, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who carried out their mission of evangelization above all in Greater Moravia and thus brought Christianity to both Slovakia and Bohemia. The very ancient establishment of the episcopal see of Nitra, to which is connected the memory of the holy Bishop Bystrik, bears special witness to this. The Brothers of Thessalonica had many disciples here, including also St. Gorazd, a son of the land of Slovakia.

The end of the tenth century is illuminated by the hermit lives of Sts. Andrew and Benedict who, after being active in the region of southern Poland and especially in the territory of the present-day Diocese of Tarnow, finally established themselves permanently at the Skalka near Trencin in the valley of Vah. Their relics today rest in Nitra.

We should also mention that Sts. Adalbert and John Nepomucene, although directly associated with Bohemia, are well known in Slovakia. The same can be said for St. Zdislava and St. Jan Sarkander, whom I recently had the joy of canonizing at Olomouc in Moravia. Certainly the saints of neighbouring Hungary are also dear to you, particularly St. Stephen and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

3. In the vast perspective which the Communion of Saints opens before us, we wish today to pause and to reflect in a special way on the three Martyrs of Kosice who, during the troubled events of the first part of the 17th century, together with many other victims of deadly violence laid down their lives for the cause of Christ and the Gospel.

We think first of all of the canon of Esztergom Marek Krizin, who came to Slovakia from his native Croatia in order to place his generous pastoral ministry at the service of a Church in difficulty because of the reduced number of priests. Like the Good Shepherd, Marek Krizin did not abandon his flock in times of hardship, as a hireling would have done (cf. Jn 10:11-15).

Instead he remained at the service of the People of God, offering a radiant example of fidelity to Christ and to the mission he had received. Today from heaven he continues to watch over you, encouraging each one to bear fearless witness to the Gospel and to serve the Church with generosity.

4. No less heroism was shown by the Jesuit priest Stefan Pongracz, a Hungarian by birth, who sealed with the gift of his life an existence completely devoted to the service of God and his brothers and sisters. From nearby Transylvania, Stefan left behind the prospects of a brilliant career in the world and came to proclaim the Gospel in the lands of eastern Slovakia. Here in Kosice, while he courageously carried out the difficult apostolate entrusted to him, the Lord rewarded his willingness to serve and his spirit of sacrifice by granting him the glorious palm of martyrdom. Today we inscribe his name in the Martyrology of the Church in Slovakia.

Melichar Grodziecky was also a Jesuit, a Pole of Silesian origin, who arrived here exercising his priestly ministry for many years in Prague as a teacher of young people. Forced to abandon the city together with the other Jesuits on the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, he passed through Moravia and Slovakia, and finally settled in Kosice. Here it was granted him to seal with his blood his total consecration to Christ and to the service of his brothers and sisters. Today we recall with gratitude and admiration these three courageous witnesses to the Gospel who, at the moment of trial, resisted blandishments and torture and faced death without denying their faith and their fidelity to Christ and the Church. Their supreme witness shines before us as a radiant example of commitment to the Gospel, an example to which we can turn as we face the difficult and dangerous choices not lacking in our own days.

5. Dear brothers and sisters! Today's liturgy invites us to reflect on the tragic events of the early 17th century, emphasizing, on the one hand, the senselessness of violence relentlessly visited upon innocent victims and, on the other, the splendid example of so many followers of Christ who were able to face sufferings of every kind without going against their own consciences. Besides the three Martyrs of Kosice many other people, also belonging to Christian confessions, were subjected to torture and suffered heavy punishment; some were even put to death. How can we fail to acknowledge, for example, the spiritual greatness of the twenty-four members of the Evangelical Churches who were killed at Presov? To them and to all who accepted suffering and death out of fidelity to the dictates of their conscience the Church gives praise and expresses admiration.

In this spirit of intense ecclesial communion I wish to greet all of you, dear brothers and sisters. In a special way I greet Cardinals Jan Chryzostom Korec and Jozef Tomko, and all the Church's Cardinals, Bishop Alojz Tkac, the Pastor of this Archdiocese, together with his Auxiliary, Bishop Bernard Bober, and all the Bishops present. With deep affection I also greet the priests, the men and women religious, the members of associations and ecclesial movements and all the People of God.

I respectfully greet the President of the Slovak Republic, Mr. Michal Kovac, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Vladimir Meciar, and I cordially thank them for participating in this celebration. My respectful greetings likewise go to the civil, political and military authorities, and also to the members of the official delegations from Croatia, Poland and Hungary whom I thank for their presence at this solemn celebration. I sense the particular spiritual presence of the sick, organized in the great and worthy Family of the Immaculate, and of all the suffering who join us at this moment by radio and television. I am grateful to all for the support of their prayers, raised to God together with the offering of their sufferings. The ministry of the Pope, Bishops and priests is greatly indebted to this truly precious spiritual cooperation.

6. Today we can almost hear from the lips of the holy martyrs the words which we heard proclaimed in the liturgy. With St. Paul they too say to us: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." "I am sure," writes the Apostle, "that neither death nor life ... nor things present, nor things to come ... nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:35-39). Martyrdom is the most perfect and most radical manifestation of this life, as Jesus himself says: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13).

With joy we inscribe the three Martyrs of Kosice in the Church's Martyrologium, this glorious register which links us, in a marvellous communion of holiness throughout history,, with the age of the Apostles. To the ancient martyrs of the Christian East and West, to those of the following centuries and the seventeenth century in particular, our century adds a new band of magnificent witnesses to Christ, who by their death proclaim fidelity to God's covenant of love with humanity. I also referred to this Martyrologium in my Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, urging that it be brought up to date after the horrendous experiences of this past century and made complete with the names of the martyrs who have opened our way to the new millennium of Christianity (cf. n. 37). Martyrdom unites us with all those believers in Christ, both in the East and in the West, with whom we still await the attainment of full ecclesial communion (cf. n. 34).

I wish therefore to express my joy at having been able to add these new names today to the Martyrologium of the Church in Slovakia, and I am confident that this act will serve to encourage all the Sister Churches, especially those of Central and Eastern Europe.

The three new saints belonged to three different nations, but they shared the same faith and, sustained by that faith, they were united also in facing death. May their example renew in their fellow citizens of today a commitment to mutual understanding and may it strengthen especially between Slovaks and the Hungarian minority the bonds of friendship and cooperation! Only on the foundation of mutual respect for the rights and duties of majorities and minorities can a pluralistic and democratic State endure and flourish.

7. "Salvum fac populum Tuum Domine et benedic haereditati tuae".

The Ambrosian Hymn, after proclaiming the greatest mysteries of the faith, assumes the tones of a great petition. May God "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" (2 Cor 1:3), Christ, the Redeemer of the world, and the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, hear this petition which today we raise from the heart of Slovakia.

"Salvum fac populum Tuum Domine". This people is your heritage, O Christ, throughout its history so rich in glorious events. This people lives by faith in the Redemption accomplished through your Cross and Resurrection. This beloved people is on pilgrimage, through its beautiful land nestled beneath the Tatra Mountains, towards the goal of all believers: the eternal homeland.

"Rege eos et extolle illos usque in aeternum." This people wishes to bless you every day, O God of infinite majesty: "in singulos dies benedicimus Te et laudamus nomen Tuum in saeculum et in saeculum saeculi." Through my words Slovakia gives thanks to you today for all the saints who have marked the way of salvation history in this land.

Slovakia blesses you for Sts. Marek Krizin, Stefan Pongracz and Melichar Grodziecky. It praises you also for Bishop Jan Wojtassak of Spis, Bishop Pavol Gojdic of Presov, and also for all the other sons and daughters of this land, members of the various Christian confessions, who offered their heroic witness to Christ even to the supreme gift of their lives.

"Benedicamus Patrem et Filium et Sanctum Spiritum, laudemus et exaltemus eum in saecula.


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