We must not forget the heroic witness offered by the Church’s pastors in the face of totalitarianism
And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for Joseph had solemnly sworn the people of Israel, saying, “God will visit you; then you must carry my bones with you from here”
– Exodus 13:18-19
Joseph’s bones were carried home this past week. Not Joseph, the son of Jacob, after hundreds of years in Egypt, but Josef Cardinal Beran, after 49 years in Rome. On April 23, the remains of Cardinal Beran were buried in St Vitus Cathedral in Prague, transferred from the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinal Beran died in Rome in 1969, exiled from what was then Czechoslovakia. Appointed archbishop of Prague in 1946, his refusal to betray the faith at the behest of the communist regime led to his house arrest and imprisonment. In 1963 he was released, but prevented from exercising his office as archbishop. Finally, in early 1965, he was permitted to go to Rome in permanent exile, where Blessed Paul VI made him a cardinal in February 1965. He remained in Rome until his death, with Pope Paul himself rushing to the deathbed to honour the noble pastor.
After his death, the Holy Father extended to Beran the rare honour of burial in the Vatican crypt, usually reserved only for popes. Beran was buried near the tomb of St Peter, and there he waited – according to his own final wishes – for a time to return in death to the cathedral in Prague where in life he was never allowed freely to exercise his ministry.
He may have taken a lead in this from the example of Pope Leo XIII who, for the entirety of his long pontificate during the “prisoner of the Vatican” period, never visited his own cathedral in Rome. He therefore chose to be buried in St John Lateran – the Roman cathedral – instead of in the Vatican, the more recent papal residence.
During the Second World War, Fr Beran was not afraid to defy the Nazis, for which he was imprisoned in Dachau for nearly three years. It was the largest “monastery” in the world, as so many priests were imprisoned there. Upon the end of the war, in the brief respite before the Soviet empire tightened its grip on Czechoslovakia, Beran was given the highest national honours, including designation as a “Hero of the Resistance”.
We ought to note the translation of Cardinal Beran’s remains because no occasion should be missed to remind new generations of one of most noble chapters in the history of the Church, namely the heroic witness offered by the Church’s pastors in the age of the totalitarians.
I noted that proud list in a column last year, in regard to Cardinal Adam Sapieha of Kraków. It is necessary to keep its memory fresh in the Church’s life.
We can consider, alongside Cardinal Beran, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński of Warsaw, declared Venerable last December and, one hopes, to be beatified soon. There is also Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac of Zagreb, already beatified.
Not to be forgotten either are Cardinal Kazimierz Świątek of Minsk, Cardinal Josyf Slipyj of Lviv, Cardinal Alexandru Todea of Romania and Cardinal Jozef Mindszenty, the primate of Hungary. Of course, above all is the great pope of our epoch, St John Paul II, who was formed in the crucible of Nazism and communism.
Persecution is frequent enough in the history of the Church. Not as frequent are periods where faithful witness was the rule, not the exception. England, for example, honours her martyrs, but there were many who lacked the courage of heroic fidelity, and many others who betrayed the faith.
The day will come, God willing, when there are canonised saints of the totalitarian age in the cathedrals of Warsaw, of Budapest, of Lviv, and now of Prague.
Joseph, upon his death in Egypt, made the Israelites promise that when the time came, they would carry his bones to the land promised to his great-grandfather Abraham. Egypt was not to be his final earthly home. When Moses carried the bones of Joseph out of Egypt it was an act of piety, and an act of vindication for the faith of Joseph who never doubted that God would keep his promises.
In Prague that same millennial drama was enacted this week. Josef is now home.
Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of convivium.ca
This article first appeared in the April 27th 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here