Thursday, October 26, 2023

Carmelite nuns fail to obtain exemption to new land hoarding tax for Dublin monastery

AN BORD PLEANÁLA has rejected a plea by the trustees of a south Dublin Carmelite Monastery, which is home to nine Carmelite sisters, that monastery lands there shouldn’t be liable to a new tax. 
This follows the appeals board upholding a decision by Dun Laoighaire Rathdown County Council that lands at the Carmelite Monastery of St Joseph, Kilmacud Road Upper, Blackrock, Co Dublin be subject to the new Residential Land Zoned Tax (RLZT). 
The RLZT annual tax on undeveloped lands is calculated at 3% of the market value of the lands within its scope. 
The lands are zoned for residential purposes and the appeals board has included the lands for the annual tax after its inspector, John Duffy concluded that the site is within an established urban area with services available and no capacity or other reasons have been identified that would prevent the development of these lands for residential purposes.

In the appeal against the council decision, the trustees argued that inclusion of the monastery lands in the RZLT “would interfere with the sisters’ way of life” as the grounds are vital to the physical and mental well-being of the residents.

The appeal accepted that the land is zoned for residential use and that the site can be connected to public infrastructure and facilities.

The appeal however pointed out that the monastery is a residential institution, while the lodge on the lands accommodates four people.

The subject lands comprise the Carmelite Monastery complex including the main residential building, a chapel, a lodge, outbuildings, car parking, gardens and a pasture field situated to the east of the monastery buildings.

The appeal stated that the sisters do not leave the site except for exceptional reasons and as such the lands are very important to the residents as they form an integral part of the monastery.

The appeal also stated that since 1888 the sisters have been carrying out a trade from the site, namely the distribution of altar bread sold to churches and communities across the country.

The appeal pointed out that this trade would be subject to commercial rates however the monastery is a registered charity and as such is exempt from payment of rates.

The appeal also pointed out that the site offers refuge to facilitate biodiversity and an assertion by the council that this is not a reason to exclude the lands from the RZLT map is contrary to its own climate action plan. 

However, in his assessment, Duffy noted that the business operating from the site does not have the benefit of planning permission and no commercial rates are liable. 

Duffy states that as such, it is apparent that the site does not qualify for exclusion under the legislation

Census: Number of Catholics in Ireland falls 10pc as over 700,000 say they have no religion

The number of people in Ireland who identify as Catholic dropped by ten percentage points, according to newly released Census data.

According to the Central Statistics Office, more than 14pc of the population now identify as having no religion.

The figures are included in the latest release from Census 2022, which was carried out in April last year.

This morning the CSO published its fifth set of results from the population wide survey.

It said that the percentage of the population who identified as Roman Catholic fell from 79pc in the 2016 census to 69pc in the most recent Census. The number of people with no religion increased by 284,269 to a total of 736,210, which the CSO said was more than 14pc of the total population.

People aged between 25 and 29 were the least likely to be Catholic, with 53pc of this age group identifying what was once the dominant religion of the country. Over a quarter of that same age group identified also identified as having no religion, which was the highest proportion among any age group.

The CSO said that religious identity varied by citizenship, with 70pc of Polish citizens being Roman Catholic and more than 41pc of UK citizens having no religion. According to Census 2022, almost half of Indian citizens were Hindu and nearly 66pc of Romanians were Orthodox.

The latest publication from the CSO also gives new insights into both citizenship and immigration into Ireland in the year before the national survey.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

CWI : Operation Laonia (21)

CWI : Operation Laonia

Well now Fintan,just a few more questions for you and Cleo, especially in light of this....

1. Do you both still condone, believe, and consider to be vulnerable, a woman who prefers botox treatment over her childrens wellbeing?

2. Do you both still, having viewed the transcript of a recording presented in legal evidence, consider this woman to be vulnerable?

3.  Why did you both, and another person, Mr P.R., refuse to view evidence when offered, by the falsely accused priest (by this very woman) when it was offered to you all?

4. Would either of you care to comment on the contents of that transcript? She gets even...were you both aware of this?

5. Do any of you not feel that you encouraged her in this behaviour by telling her that you believed her that fateful day in Westbourne?

6. Were either of you aware of the child benefit payments made? They were double. Do you condone this behaviour?

7. When the woman said that she gets botox delivered to her house, she followed that statement with a question - So? Do you both condone this contempt in the same way you condoned her contempt for truth when she was with you both in Westbourne?

8. Since that day in Westbourne, did you Fintan, Cleo or Mr P.R. ever think for one moment that she lied to you all - singularly and collectively?

9. Fintan, on the basis of her blatant lies, you petitioned Rome for this priest to be laicaised, whilst failing to carry out an actual investigation (not the pre-scripted one you got Mr P.R. to sign off on for you). Do you not regret that decision to this day, and especially so in the light of what has started to happen in the courts?

10. Cleo, will you now still issue her a glowing letter of reference such as the one you issued to another heretofore, and which duly managed to go worldwide? 

11. Mr. P.R., do you now regret not believing the priest when he was with you trying to defend the truth - which you blithely ignored for Fintans 30 pieces of silver - and had evidence to back it up?

12. Fintan, Cleo and Mr P.R. - on this alone, and only God knows what is yet to transpire - do any of you now consider your positions untenable and resign? Or will all 3 of you (and corrupt cohorts) continue as is and hope it all goes away (which it won't)?

Monday, October 23, 2023

Diocesan Appointments 2023 : Diocese of Elphin

Bishop Kevin has made the following Diocesan appointments:

Effective 26th September 2023

V. Rev. Fr. Micheál Donnelly is to be Diocesan Chaplain to the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.

Effective 4th November 2023

Fr. Joseph Wenjeslaus (Diocese of Kottar), Chaplain at Sligo University Hospital and Curate at St. Anne’s Parish to be Curate at St. Peter and Paul Parish, Athlone.

Effective 7th November 2023

Fr, Conrad Forzeh (Diocese of Kumba), newly ordained, to be Chaplain at Sligo University Hospital and Curate at St. Anne’s Parish

Fr. Frankline Nkopi (Diocese of Kumba), newly ordained, to be Curate at St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish, and Chaplain to the North Elphin Curia of the Legion of Mary.

Ukrainian priest among five held after Spanish police seize €60m of jewellery

Stolen ancient artefacts from Ukraine recovered in Spain

Spanish police have confiscated 11 pieces of ancient gold jewellery which they said were taken out of Ukraine illegally in 2016.

A police statement said five people who were attempting to sell the pieces in Spain have been arrested in recent weeks. 

Those arrested included two Ukrainians, one of them an Orthodox Church priest, and three Spaniards.

The jewellery was said to be worth €60 million and dated from between the eighth and fourth centuries BC.

Police said the items were part of Ukraine’s national heritage. 

They went missing after being put on display between 2009 and 2013 in a museum in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. The pieces included a belt, earrings and necklaces.

An ornate gold belt was seized in 2021 and the rest of the pieces were confiscated in recent weeks. 

Police said the investigations continued.

The pieces are being studied by Spain’s National Archaeological Museum and the country’s Cultural Heritage Institute.

Interior ministry attaches in Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, North Macedonia and Ukraine helped with the investigation, police said.

At Synod they wept, but have they truly changed?

Synod tensions have been rising, but the process has so far been able to contain them. 

In the hall, the discussion has covered hot-button topics, including the church’s welcome of LGBTQ Catholics and the role of women.

Some interventions at the synod have questioned whether the Church needs to change its approach to LGBTQ people. 

Others gave powerful testimonies about why change is necessary.

Fr Timothy Radcliffe, the English Dominican friar acting as a spiritual adviser to the synod, referred to a story told to the synod hall of a woman who took her own life “because she was bisexual and did not feel welcomed”. 

The Tablet understands that this intervention made a powerful impact on the gathering and involved a Polish woman who, according to the testimony, had been refused absolution after going to confession.  

“Many of us wept,” Fr Timothy said when referring to this story. “I hope it changed us.”

A crucial question for synod participants concerns how to welcome LGBTQ people while maintaining church teachings on marriage and sexuality. 

Latvian Archbishop Zbignev Stankevics, for example, pointed out the demands for chastity but also spoke about his “pastoral conversion” on the topic, inspired by Pope Francis.

The Pope made his intervention into the discussion by receiving Sr Jeannine Gramick, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, a group which ministers to gay Catholics, during the synod. 

It was a remarkable meeting given Sr Jeannine and her late co-founder, Fr Robert Nugent, and both been censured by the Vatican for their work

There is a growing sense in Rome that the synod must lead to concrete reforms. Francis, in an interview with the Argentinian news outlet Télam, released halfway through the synod, said: “Since the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII had a very clear perception: the Church has to change. Paul VI agreed, just like the succeeding Popes.” 

As the synod discussion moved onto the meaty topic of “participation, governance and authority”, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the synod coordinator, said the “people closest to us” are “wondering what will change for them.” He urged the small group to come up with “concrete proposals” and warned that clericalism – where an elite holds authority – stifles the Church’s mission.

The synod is looking at the relationship between the ordained priesthood and the ministry that every Church member carries out through baptism. A critical task for the Church remains the liberation of the priesthood from clericalism and ensuring all Catholics have a sense of responsibility for the Church’s work. 

Throughout the synod process, the role of women in the Church has consistently been identified as an urgent priority. 

The discussions have included the question of admitting women to the diaconate, a topic repeatedly raised by the synod process at the local and continental levels. 

Some have said this question – the subject of two papal commissions during the Francis pontificate — is not prominent, and the question of female participation in the church goes broader than roles and functions. Nevertheless, it is not likely to go away.

Some changes better to include women in decision-making can be brought in immediately, for example, in pastoral councils (forums that seek to involve lay people in decision-making at a diocesan level).  

Myriam Wijlens, one of the synod advisers, has pointed out that there is nothing to stop a bishop from mandating that 50 per cent of his pastoral council should be women. 

Meanwhile, French Bishop Alexandre Joly told synodal delegates how he tackled a financial crisis in his diocese by bringing “together a group of Christians with different skills, under the leadership of a woman”.

Bishop Shane Mackinlay spoke of Australia’s synod process (the Plenary Council) and how it dealt with disagreement over the role of women in the church. As I reported for The Tablet from Sydney, the bishop played a crucial role in overcoming difficulties in that process

The interventions of Mackinlay, 58, and Joly, 52, show that the emerging leaders of the church are likely to be those willing to put synodality into action and to exercise their episcopal ministry that enables participation rather than relies on the old ways of command and control.  

Despite the disagreements, the synod is holding. There have been striking images of delegates holding very different viewpoints talking to each other. Fr James Martin, known for his ministry to gay Catholics, was pictured with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former Vatican doctrine prefect who has described blessing same-sex couples as “blasphemy”. 

They exchanged gifts: Cardinal Müller gave Fr Martin a book on Gustavo Gutiérrez, the father of liberation theology, and the American Jesuit gave the German cardinal a copy of his book on Jesus.

The new synod, however, will take time to get used to. At least one prelate has stormed out of the hall. 

Although two Chinese bishops have left the Synod due to “pastoral needs” in their dioceses, no one has stormed out and not come back. The differences don’t have to be debilitating, and it is through the “constellation of divergences” that something new can emerge

A strong opposition to the synod remains. At a media briefing on 19 October, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, was asked about the “conspiracy” theory being floated that “the bishops are being manipulated by a liberal cabal”.

He replied: “I do not see a conspiracy. I have simply heard honest, sincere, faithful, charitable conversations under the care of Peter [the Pope]. That is not a threat to the faith.” 

The final part of the synod assembly will see participants discuss and agree on a document synthesising their discussions, and this will then be sent to local churches for further discernment. 

Areas for further reflection and study are also likely to be identified. 

Fr Vimal Tirimanna from Sri Lanka, a theological adviser to the process, told journalists that the contested topics raised by the synod can only be addressed “once the firm foundation of the synodal way of life is laid”. 

But the synodal builders have begun their work. 

'Make the rosary your lifeline' - Why pilgrims came to the Vatican's synod rosary procession

When the bells at St. Peter’s Basilica chimed nine o’clock on Saturday evening, hundreds of Catholics joined a candlelight rosary procession, praying the rosary in several languages as a steam of candles formed a lighted ribbon around the edges St. Peter’s Square.

The Oct. 21 procession was the third to be held this month, as the Vatican hosts more than 300 bishops, priests, religious, and lay people from around the world, who have been invited to participate in the month-long synod of bishops on the topic of synodality.

A schola choir stood on the steps of the basilica to sing simple chants between the decades of the rosary, which was led by the retired Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, a long-time Vatican official.

Hundreds of lay people made up the procession, along with priests, seminarians, and religious sisters. Cardinals and bishops processed along with them, wearing ordinary clerical clothing, and walking with the crowd. 

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston processed alongside other Catholics, holding aloft a white candle adorned with a red plastic cup to catch dripping wax.

The cardinal told The Pillar he had come to each of the rosary processions held this month at the Vatican. He said they were “encouraging,” and “very beautiful.”

Lawrence, a young pilgrim from Croatia, told The Pillar that he had participated in the rosary procession for a simple reason: “We’re Catholics, so why not?”

Noting the assembled crowd, the balmy temperatures, and a warm breeze across the square, he told The Pillar, “This is perfect. Really. Just perfect.”

Asked what he prayed for, he pointed to the young woman walking next to him, fingering her rosary beads. 

“I pray for the two of us,” he said.

Asked if they were married, Lawrence grinned. 

“Not yet. But we’ll see.” 

Fr. Tijo, a Syro-Malabar priest from the Indian Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, is a student of dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Regina Apsostolorum University in Rome. 

The priest declined to give his last name, saying with a laugh that spelling it would be “too complicated.”

Fr. Tijo said he had come to the rosary with other priest-students, because “we are praying for peace in all of the world.”

“This is a very cool experience so that we are praying for peace, and that is so important right now.”

“The rosary is a prayer that helps us grow closer to Jesus through Mary. Plus this place is at the center of our faith. We have our apostles here, St. Peter here, the pope here — so for us to be here, we are blessed to be here. It is very nice.”

Jessica, a pilgrim from Germany, told The Pillar that the rosary had been a powerful experience for her — even though she had “hoped so much” that Pope Francis would be present at the procession.

But Jessica said the procession was an experience of grace, even without the pope’s presence.

“The feeling… to catch this feeling … how it feels with all the people here in this amazing place… was holy. It was amazing. The being-together was just amazing,” Jessica said, adding that she was praying for her family and friends, and “for no war, and for freedom.”

Yanna, another pilgrim walking with the rosary procession, told The Pillar that she had come to the rosary even though she is an Orthodox Christian, not a Catholic. Yanna is Ukrainian, from Kyiv, but said she had been living in Warsaw, Poland since Russia’s invasion of her country in February 2022.

Holding a white candle, Yanna said she had happened upon the rosary procession as she walked across St. Peter’s Square. 

The procession’s beauty convinced her to stay, she said.

“I was in the Vatican Museum, and it closed an hour ago, so when I walked along I came upon this … event… and it just looks beautiful.” 

“And I like how the Catholic religion unites people, and so now I pray for peace in my country,” she said.

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle is a delegate to the synod on synodality, and the archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana. 

He came to the rosary procession, he said, because “I believe in the holy rosary myself. I have always prayed it every day, at least twice — once in the morning and once in the evening,” the archbishop said. 

“That’s a contract I made with the Blessed Virgin Mary somewhere in the year 1975” — the year Palmer-Buckle was ordained a deacon. 

“I made a contract with the Blessed Virgin Mary that if she would stand by me, I would try to be a good priest. And you make the rosary your lifeline to God — because Jesus gave us his mother — and when I pray the rosary, I don’t need to ask anything [specific] of the Lord. I just tell him: ‘You know what I need. Give it me.’”

Palmer-Buckle said that he was surprised to be moved by the rosary procession at the Vatican.

“I was very touched, and this gives me hope that the world will be saved.” 

The archbishop said that he was moved to pray for the delegates of the synod as he carried a candle through the square.

“In this first phase, we are listening to each other. And hearing from each other the worries, the challenges, the difficulties, everywhere in the world — I believe that we will go back home with this knowledge and pray for each other better.”

“Maybe then we can see what kind of healing we need in the Church.”

Commenting on the synod, the archbishop said that he hopes participants will take their own perspectives to prayer, and consider carefully the issues they raise. 

“We live now in a society where — like the light on the wall, you press the button, and expect the light. And I think many of us lack the patience we need to be able to listen [to God] and see whether what we are asking for is really the answer to what we need.”

“People want the want quickly. They want it now.”

“I don’t think we must change the Church to fit us. We must rather fit ourselves to Jesus Christ and what he wants of us, through the help of the Church.”

Study: Sacraments in decline in Latin America

Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano y Caribeño - CELAM

A major new study of the Catholic Church in Latin America has highlighted a decline in the number of baptisms and other sacraments.

The 286-page report, issued by the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopal Council (CELAM), said that the number of annual baptisms had fallen from 8,197,000 in 2000 to 5,135,000 in 2020. 

Confirmations and Catholic marriages also decreased steadily in the same period.

The trends highlighted in the document “The Church’s mission in Latin American countries” are significant for the universal Church, as 41% of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America and the Caribbean. The number of baptized Catholics in the region is roughly double that of both Europe and Africa, four times that of Asia, and six times that of North America. The Church is also being led for the first time by a pope from Latin America.

Writing in the foreword, CELAM’s secretary general Archbishop Jorge Eduardo Lozano said: “The decline in the number of baptisms and other sacraments, such as confirmations and marriages, also raises questions about sacramentality in the region. The Church faces the need to take into account the changing cultural and social realities of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

In the report’s conclusion, the authors wrote: “It is possible to conjecture that the number of Catholics in the region, approximated based on the number of baptisms administered per year, will fall in the near future due to the conjunction of two trends: the slowdown in population growth, and the drop in the number of baptisms administered annually.” 

“If the trend that seems to have taken hold in the four regions of Latin America continues, especially since the beginning of the new millennium — joining the trend that has been registered in Europe and North America since the 1970s — the fall in the number of Catholics is a not-too-distant scenario, and their relative weight in relation to the population will progressively decline even more than the absolute numbers.”

The authors noted that alongside the decline in sacraments administered, there was also a widespread weakening of Catholic affiliation, which seemed “to indicate a loss of weight of the Catholic Church in the Latin American population, a distancing from the institution.” 

“Perhaps it is a different bond, less mediated by the sacramental; a conjecture that should be investigated in subsequent studies,” they wrote.

The report was not devoid of good news. It noted that the number of priests in the Central America and Mexico region doubled from 10,957 to 22,016 in 2020.

The study also said that the number of seminarians in Latin America grew between 1970 and 2005, but then began to decline, returning in 2020 to a similar level to that in 1990.

Archbishop Lozano, who leads Argentina’s San Juan de Cuyo archdiocese, said that “the decrease in the number of seminarians poses challenges for the future regarding the number of priests and the pastoral care of communities.”

The report also highlighted a downward trend in the number of female religious, seen first in CELAM’s Southern Cone region, and then followed in 2005 to 2010 by the Central America and Mexico region, the Caribbean and Antilles region, and the Andean region.

“Consecrated life, both male and female, has been an important pillar of the Church in Latin America, providing a constant missionary presence and a valuable social service through its works,” wrote Archbishop Lozano, who has served as CELAM’s secretary general since April.

“However, there has been a decline in female religious life, which raises questions about the future of these works and their impact on the most vulnerable communities.”

As well as breaking down trends by region, the report examined developments within CELAM’s 22 member bishops’ conferences.

Lozano said that the study offered “a complete and detailed vision of the presence and action of the Catholic Church in Latin America.” 

“Through the data and analysis presented, we are invited to reflect and search for pastoral strategies that will enable the Church to face future challenges,” he wrote. “The Church's evangelizing mission in this culturally and spiritually diverse region remains vital, and we must be ready to adapt and respond to the changing needs of our faithful.”

Chinese bishops overstayed exit visas to remain at synod

After Chinese bishops left the Vatican’s synod on synodality early this week, sources in China told The Pillar that their country’s government had given the bishops only short-term exit visas from China. 

The bishops actually overstayed their allotted time, choosing to remain at the synod past their mandated return date, according to senior Church sources in China.

Bishop Anthony Yao Shun and Bishop Joseph Yang Yongqiang attended the Vatican synod this month after being nominated by the pope for the meeting — the Holy See confirmed that Pope Francis had chosen the clerics from a slate of prospective invitees who were first approved by Beijing.

The synodal secretariat announced earlier this week that Yao and Yang were returning to China after taking part in the first 12 days of the nearly-month long synodal session.

Their early departure mirrors the last time bishops from the People’s Republic of China participated in a Roman synod in 2018, from which two Chinese delegates made a similarly premature exit.

The exit of the Chinese bishops this month was noted among synod watchers, some of whom noted that Chinese dioceses had not taken part in the diocesan phase of the global synodal process, and that mainland Chinese bishops had not attended the continental sessions for Asia.

But senior sources in the Church in China told The Pillar that although Yang and Yao had been invited by Pope Francis from a list of potential attendees acceptable to Beijing, both men had come in good faith to the synodal assembly, and that their early departure was always a condition imposed by Beijing.

“Chinese nationals resident in the mainland need visas to leave China,” one senior Chinese cleric told The Pillar on Oct. 17, shortly after the bishops’ departure was announced in Rome. “These visas are entirely discretionary. They are often granted at the very last minute and include a set return date.”

In the case of Yang and Yao, the source said, the exit visas were “granted for a period of time that requires their return before the synod is over, thus demonstrating — to the Vatican, in the first instance — that they attend at the pleasure of the Chinese state: that China and not the Vatican is in charge.”

But while the bishops may have attended the synod only with the Chinese government’s permission, The Pillar has learned that by remaining in Rome for as long as they did, the two bishops actually overstayed their state issued visas.

A senior source in the Church in China confirmed Oct. 19 that both bishops were only issued 10-day exit visas from the country, and chose themselves to remain in Rome for 12 days, in order to participate further in the synodal process.

The source told The Pillar that the bishops’ decision to stay past their 10 day allotment would have been unsanctioned by the government and characterized the choice as a “bold” and pointed act of independence. 

Another source in China told The Pillar that Yang and Yao had “a difficult needle to thread” in their relations with Rome. 

“I think a lot of people make the assumption that the Church in China is black and white,” the priest said. “There are ‘good’ underground Catholics and bishops and then there are government cooperators who are ‘bad’. Nothing is that simple.”

The priest told The Pillar that while many Catholics opted not to work with the state and suffer resultant persecution, other bishops, like Yang and Yao, “have to somehow keep their communion with Rome and work within the confines of the government’s policies. If they don’t, then you face a very different reality for the Church in China.”

“It’s not as easy as saying there’s an underground Church and a state church. The separation isn’t clear or absolute, and it runs through individuals, too — the faithful and bishops live this blend in themselves. It’s an uneasy tension, but it is the reality the Church lives.”

In the years since the 2018 Vatican-China deal, Beijing has steadily exerted formal and unilateral control over the episcopal appointment process for mainland dioceses, first by appearing to preempt Vatican approval of candidates to fill diocesan sees and then by seeming happy to dispense with Holy See involvement at all. 

More recently, the Chinese government has gone much further, erecting its own dioceses, and prevailing upon bishops to abandon their legitimate assignments to take up posts recognized by the Communist Party but not the Church. 

Bishop Yang Yongqiang is the 53-year-old Bishop of Zhoucun in China’s eastern Shandong province. He was ordained coadjutor bishop of the diocese in 2010 with Vatican approval and took up the leadership of the diocese in 2013. 

Yang has served in senior roles in Church-state affairs in China. He was reportedly elected vice-president of the Catholic Patriotic Association in 2016 and currently served as the deputy head of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China — a state-sponsored group not recognized as a canonical bishops’ conference — which is responsible via the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association for enforcing Communist Party-approved measures to “sinicize” the Church and faith.

Bishop Anthony Yao Shun is the 57-year-old leader of the Diocese of Jining in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. He studied liturgy at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, in the 1990s. 

After returning to China, he played prominent roles in the country’s liturgical commission, which is overseen by the state-managed Catholic Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops, which is not recognized by the Vatican.

The Vatican reportedly approved Yao’s appointment as Bishop of Jining in 2010, but he was not ordained as bishop of the diocese until 2019, when he became the first bishop to be consecrated following the 2018 provisional agreement between China and the Holy See.

The faithful servant of Christ and the Church who was assassinated by Soviet communists

Blessed Theodore Romzha

After the end of hostilities between Nazi Germany and the forces allied with the United States in 1945, the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe began with violence targeting Catholics, especially those of the Greek rite. 

The young Bishop Theodore Romzha of Mukachevo in eastern Ukraine had tried to not antagonize the increasingly violent communist government, but soon, he faced a dire choice similar to St. Thomas More, who chose martyrdom centuries before in England.

Born in 1911, Romzha came from Ruthenia — an ethnic and religious enclave in the Carpathian Mountains of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire that straddles modern Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine. He was a Rusyn, an East Slavic ethnic group that entered the Catholic Church in the late 800s through the work of the missionary saints Cyril and Methodius. 

The majority of Rusyns are of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic rite in communion with Rome that shares the rich Byzantine liturgy and traditions of their Orthodox Christian neighbors. They are found in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Many immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s, especially to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Romzha prepared for missionary work as a priest in Russia: a virtual death sentence after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. He was ordained to the priesthood on Christmas Day 1936.

Auxiliary Bishop Milan Lach of Slovakia recalled that Romzha was sent to a small parish in the Carpathian Mountains. “But God had a mission prepared for him: to become a shepherd bishop in the most difficult time,” he told CNA. 

At the age of 33, Romzha was ordained bishop of Mukachevo in eastern Ukraine during the Nazi occupation in 1944. He chose for his episcopal motto: “I love you, O Lord, my strength; you are my stronghold and my refuge!”, which is taken from Psalm 18.

Reflecting on the martyr’s legacy, Lach — who recently served as bishop of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic diocese based in Parma, Ohio — said: “Romzha knew Marxism and Leninism very well, because he studied them in detail. Already as a seminarian, he was preparing for a mission to Russia. This is evidenced by his presence in the papal Russian college in Rome. God changed his plans through his bishop.” 

Soon after, Soviet troops invaded and occupied that region. Lach said that this meant “the end of freedom and democracy and the rise of dictatorship and communism, which had no mercy on its enemies. Not even with the Greek Catholic Church, of which he was a bishop.”

The Second World War ceded to a “cold” war pitting the United States and NATO countries against the Soviet Union. Communists of the Soviet-bloc countries waged war internally against political and religious dissidents, sometimes with the cooperation of the Russian Orthodox Church.

But Romzha was implacable in defending the Catholic Church in Ukraine. Soviet authorities seized churches and seminaries, turning them over to the Russian Orthodox Church and demanding Catholic clergy should abjure the pope. In the presence of Soviet Gen. Ivan Petrov in 1947, Romzha refused to break communion with Rome. This would cost him his life.

“Why must the young pious bishop die? To bear witness to the truth. To show that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, that the highest degree of love is to sacrifice one’s life for others, that is: for Christ," Lach told CNA. "Bishop Romzha did not run away, although he could. He had contacts in the West. He stayed with his people until the end.”

In October 1947, a Soviet army truck rammed Romzha’s horse-drawn carriage while he was returning from a pastoral visit. Soldiers dressed as civilians emerged from the truck and mercilessly beat the bishop and companions.

Taken to a hospital in Uzhhorod, Romzha was recuperating under the care of nuns. But late on the night of Oct. 31, the nuns were dismissed and replaced by a civilian nurse. She poisoned Romzha by an injection of curare (a poison originating from plant extracts used as a paralyzing agent) provided by the feared Soviet NKVD state security agency. According to the Soviet-imposed time zone, his death date was Nov. 1. Romzha was the last public bishop of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine until Soviet domination ended in 1991.

Later research revealed that dictator Josef Stalin’s henchman, Nikita Khrushchev — a future Soviet premier — had personally ordered the assassination.

Recalling the cost that faith may exact on believers, Lach wrote:

“To be faithful to one’s calling until the end is a legacy for each one of us. Blessed Hieromartyr Theodore, pray for us!”

In the Eastern Christian tradition, a hieromartyr is a bishop or priest who dies for the faith. Pope John Paul II beatified Theodore Romzha in 2001.

In 2014, Pope Francis praised the fidelity of Byzantine-rite Catholics of Ukraine during a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the restoration of their religious liberty. He said that while experiencing persecution, they “gave a most beautiful example of faith.” 

The Argentine pontiff paid tribute to Romzha, who “merited to attain the glorious palm [of martyrdom] on account of his untiring fidelity to the Church.”