Eastern Europe
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Don't lose the testimonies of the «unknown martyrs of the cause of God»

Among the tasks which the Pope has assigned to the Apostolic See in view of the Third Millennium, is the one, also indicated in Tertio Millennio Adveniente, to «update the Martyrologies for the universal Church, paying significant attention to the sanctity of those who also in our times lived fully in the truth of Christ». This is a chapter, which in the phase of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee, affects in a special way the Churches of Eastern Europe, which personally experienced, for most of the century which is about to end, two terrible persecutions: that of Nazism first and then that of Communism. Therefore for these Churches, many of which have recently come back to life and still lacking a hierarchy and even priests, the eve of the Jubilee coincides with the preparation of a catalogue of their own martyrs. Pope John Paul II has urged these Churches not to lose the testimonies of those whom he defines «the unknown martyrs of the great cause of God».

Precisely quoting this phrase of the TMA, Monsignor Michael Hrychyshyn, President of the New Martyrs Commission of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee, wrote that «There has been a surprising flourishing of the gift of martyrdom in many parts of the world, but possibly nowhere as much as in Eastern Europe». Indeed many of the documents which have reached the Commission, in the thousands, come from the dioceses of Eastern Europe. The Commission has begun a first examination of the testimonies to validate them according to the most coherent criteria. «Blessed with a significant number of witnesses which is unprecedented», wrote Monsignor Hrychyshyn, «the Churches of Eastern Europe are urged to evaluate the phenomenon to reflect on this immense grace of God, and to draw from it for their spiritual enrichment and for the sanctification of the faithful».

The question was naturally present, until now, throughout the preparatory phase of the Jubilee. In Lithuania, for example, a specific committee was established for the canonisation causes of the three Lithuanian Bishop-martyrs of this century: Matulionis, Borusevicius and Reinys, for whom the processes are well underway. The objective is to complete the procedures before the year 2000; while other initiatives have been started to collect information on a larger number of Lithuanian martyrs of the 20th century. In Poland, attention is focused on the last year of preparation for the Jubilee, 1999, which the Polish bishops have decided to dedicate to a reflection on Christian life understood as a pilgrimage towards the house of the Father. Sanctity will thus be proposed as the fruit of the Church's mission, and it is in this context that the Bishops intend to concentrate the attention on new martyrs - 117 from 17 dioceses with 22 religious congregations - the first of whom is Michal Kozal. In addition in Poland, 1999, will be the anniversary of the canonisation of Saint Adalbert, while in the year 2000 the celebration of the Jubilee will coincide with the one thousandth anniversary of the establishment, by Pope Sylvester, of the archdiocese and first metropolitan see of Gniezno.

Also in Croatia significant attention is placed on new martyrs and on national reconciliation, which is shared by the other Catholic communities in the Balkans, following the war which destroyed those countries. The Bishops underline that the testimony of the martyrs was an ecumenical testimony, and that the bloodshed of Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox became the common patrimony of the Churches. After the years of bloody conflict in the Balkans, national reconciliation has become an very timely issue. The problem is felt in a special way in Croatia and Slovenia, where it has become a theme for reflection in preparation for the Jubilee. Also timely is the issue of the return of refugees displaced by war and the material reconstruction of homes and Churches. Among the refugees, there are also many priests and in some cases Bishops, who were jailed because of the attention they showed towards the pastoral needs of Catholic faithful. In all these cases, and in many others that are coming to light thanks to on-going initiatives in the preparatory phase for the Jubilee, the eve of the Third Millennium is being lived as a time of reciprocal forgiveness aimed at strengthening the fragile peace which followed the end of the conflict, and at reconstructing the country's unity after the epochal changes of the two-year period of 1989-90.