Cardinal John Chrysostom Korec

I read yesterday with interest an article in  L’Osservatore Romano ( about Cardinal John Chrysostom Korec from the Czech Republic who celebrated the 6o anniversary of his ordination to the episcopacy. At the time, he was the youngest bishop in the world at age 26.

The article is in Italian, so I present below my translation in English.

The evening of August 24, 1951, in an apartment in Bratislavia, a 26 year old Slovak Jesuit by the name of John Chrysostom Korec, today a cardinal, became the youngest bishop in the world. It was a clandestine ordination, “done in haste,” he remembers, with the fear that the police would intervene suddenly. As with the many others, barely a year prior, he had secretly become a priest.

Unique was his diocese for the first nine years of his episcopacy: a factory where he worked as a laborer and then as a watchman at night. Without forgetting he was a bishop. “A son of a worker, raised in a poor family,” Korec was certainly not afraid. In 1960, however, he changed “dioceses.” He was arrested and tried, sentenced to 12 years in prison, kept in a monastery that had been turned into a prison. There he found six bishops and 200 priests. For two years he was unable to say Mass and he survived in isolation thanks to a method of prayer he formed based on spiritual exercises. In 1968, a burst of freedom in the spring, at Prague, opened to him the doors of the prison. He worked cleaning the public gardens and later unloading barrels of asphalt in a factory. For the first time in his life, he celebrated Mass in public.  He obtained a passport to travel to Rome in 1969 where he met Pope Paul VI who gave him the episcopal symbols of office. “A moving encounter,” he recalls. “Paul VI wanted me to tell him my entire story. He was moved to tears when I told him that even in prison one could do good, and  how young criminals were converted thanks to our friendships. At the end of the audience, he gave me his ring, his pectoral cross and two miters he wore when he was archbishop of Milan.”

He also visited the catacombs of St. Calistus. “I was profoundly struck by that experience that enriched me spiritually. Evidently,” he recalled with humor that has never left him, “the communists knew and decided to be good to me and make me relive the experience of living in the catacombs…” In fact, having returned to his country, they revoked his parole and he finished his sentence behind bars for four more years. In effect, his was an episcopal mission lived in prisons and in factories. But this was of no little importance. Here is something international newspapers wrote in 1976, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination: “There is a man from Bratislavia who creates fear for the atheistic Czechoslovakians. His name is John Korec and he works as a laborer in a large factory. While suffering from bronchial asthma, he is forced to do heavy work… loading and unloading all day large barrels of asphalt. When his strength leaves him, he cannot expect any compassion because he is a lower class citizen. On his papers there is stamped his sentence, “Traitor of the Country.”

Korec went into retirement in 1984 after working also as a maintenance man for an elevator. His modest apartment in Petrazlka, in the industrial zone surrounding Prague, he has become one of the two points of reference for the survival of Christian life in Slovakia. …. Only in 1989 was he able to wear the episcopal symbols given to him by Paul VI. John Paul II nominated him bishop of Nitra, a very ancient diocese in central Europe… and in 1991 made him a cardinal. In 1998, he called him to the Vatican to preach the Lenten exercises. Three times, in 1990, 1995 and 2003, he met John Paul II in Slovakia. “Without my ties to the Holy Father, he knows, we would not have been able to resist persecution.”……

An amazing story of our own time.

Happy anniversary, Cardianl Korec!

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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