Notre Dame honors Russia’s new martyrs

It’s sometimes hard to tell, this time of year, but there’s more going on at Notre Dame than football. Spirited debate continues about the university’s Catholic identity and what that means for everything from curriculum and faculty hiring to the campus master plan. Those involved in that debate can now take inspiration from an impressive new project mounted by the university’s library, which introduces English-speakers to some modern Russian heroes of faithful discipleship.

In 2000, the Russian Catholic leadership published a remarkable study, Book of Remembrance: A Martyrology of the Catholic Church in the USSR, which included brief biographies of more than 1,800 Catholics—priests, religious, and laity—persecuted under Lenin and Stalin. The biographies were subsequently translated by Dr. Geraldine Kelley, and thanks to the work of a team led by Natasha Lyandres, Russian and East European Curator and Head of Rare Books and Special Collections at Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library, they’re now available online: https://biographies.library.nd.edu. The university’s digital resources made it possible to enhance the original Russian work, through a search engine that allows readers to work back and forth through the biographies, seeing the connections among these 20th-century heroes of the faith from both the Latin and Eastern rites.

Sixteen of those memorialized in the Book of Remembrance are now part of a joint beatification cause. Their names will be familiar to only the most knowledgeable specialists; their stories ought to inspire Catholics across America.

Mother Catherine Abrikosova, OPL, founded and led a community of Third Order Dominican sisters, for which she was arrested in 1923, along with the rest of her community, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Released after breast cancer surgery in 1932, she was re-arrested and sentenced to eight years in the Gulag camps. She died in 1936.

Another member of that Third Order Dominican community, Camilla Nikolaevna Kruczelnicka, was sentenced to ten years in 1933 and sent to what Solzhenitsyn called the “Mother of the Gulag,” the Solovki camp, located on an island in the far northern White Sea. The Book of Remembrance picks up her story from there: “In the camp she married a man whom she hoped to convert, but he turned out to be an informant for the camp administrators. In 1937, Kruczelnicka was transferred to a stricter regime area within the camp. On the 27th of October 1937, she was shot at Sandomokh, an isolated area in a swamp in Karelia, near Medvezhegorsk… while she was in the camp [she attempted] to maintain links to the Catholic priests who were there, keeping strong in her faith and trying to bear witness to it.”

Then there is Father Franciszek Budrys, whose pastoral work took him to parishes throughout Russia. The climax of his story is briefly told: “In 1937 he was arrested in Ufa together with members of the parish council on charges of being the ‘president of an espionage network of the counter-revolutionary insurgent Polish Military Organization (POV).’ December 1937—sentenced to death. December 16, 1937—shot, in Ufa prison, along with another 180 Catholics.”

The Book of Remembrance is replete with such stories, although some end with the simple notation, “Fate Unknown”—a reminder that Russia is a vast cemetery of unmarked Christian graves: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant martyrs, united in their witness-unto-death—which, as St. John Paul II taught, is the most powerful embodiment of ecumenism. Those looking for challenging spiritual reading will find it in the Book of Remembrance and at the Web site dedicated to the cause of the Catholic New Martyrs of Russia (http://en.catholicmartyrs.org), in story after story of remarkable fidelity to Christ under extraordinary circumstances.

Their witness was important in its time. Their intercession before the Throne of Grace is important today, when an aggressive Russia under Vladimir Putin is airbrushing history, lying about Catholic activity in Ukraine, threatening Russia’s neighbors, and doing so in the name of a fictive “Russian space” claiming the warrant of an ancient Christian civilization. The true exemplars of that civilization, however, are not ex-KGB agents, but the martyrs in the Book of Remembrance.

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.