Moscow (Agenzia Fides) - "The cross is not a source of bitterness and disappointment, but is already the beginning of glory". This is how Paolo Pezzi, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Mother of God in Moscow, spoke yesterday, Friday, March 31, during the homily of the Eucharistic celebration he presided over on the occasion of the centenary of the execution of priest Konstantin Budkiewicz. During the Mass, celebrated in the Catholic cathedral of Moscow, prayers were also held for the cause of beatification in progress, set up for the Polish priest and other men and women who, in the twenties and thirties, testified to the faith in Christ in the USSR.
It was precisely in March of a hundred years ago that the process against the Catholic Church by the Leninist government began in Moscow. At the beginning of 1922, during the confiscation of ecclesiastical property, the government authorities asked the representatives of the Catholic Church for a list of the objects that would be subject to confiscation. In response, Jan Feliks Cieplak, Archbishop of Mogilev, sent a circular to his priests forbidding them to deliver the requested inventories, since only the Holy See could dispose of ecclesiastical property in use by Catholics. Despite the fundamental role of mediation played during the negotiations by Father Edmund Walsh SJ − director of the pontifical relief mission in Russia during the famine of the 1920s and then the highest diplomatic representative of the Holy See in the Soviet Union − the conflict between the Catholic community, with a Polish majority, and the Leninist government proved insurmountable.
On November 25, 1922, the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Governorate ordered the closure of Catholic churches until an agreement was reached according to the wording proposed by the People's Commissariat for Justice, and on December 5 and 6, seals were placed in the places of worship. On March 2, 1923, Bishop Cieplak and 14 Catholic priests, including Exarch Leonid Fëdorov and Budkiewicz, received a summons for March 5 at the Moscow Central Revolutionary Court, a prelude to the trial that took place from March 21 to 26 of that month, to which the defendants' lawyers were not admitted. Instead, Bolshevik onlookers were present, purposely invited to attend the interrogations. The trial ended with Cieplak and Budkiewicz being sentenced to death, Fëdorov to 10 years in solitary confinement, and several years in jail (from 5 to 10 years) for the other priests. Thanks to international pressure, the archbishop's death sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison (later resolved with exile) and, of the other two death sentences, only Budkiewicz was executed, on March 31, precisely, Holy Saturday that year for the Catholic community. An "ascent to Heaven for the culmination of life", as Archbishop Pezzi defined it, while waiting for the cause of beatification to take its course. In accordance with the reorganization established in 2021 by the diocesan court of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God, the cause - which is still in its initial phase - is currently instituted for the servants of God Antonij Maleckij (1861-1935) - Titular Bishop of Dionysiana and Apostolic Administrator of Leningrad - and companions: Bishop Karol Śliwowski (1855-1933), Monsignor Konstantin Budkiewicz (1867-1923), Fr. Jan Trojgo (1881-1932), Fr. Antonij Červinskij (1881-1938), Mr. Antoni Dziemieszkiewicz (1881-1938), Mr. Francisk Budris (1882-1937), Mr. Pavel Homič (1893-1941); sister Ekaterina Sienskaja OPL ( by birth Anna Abrikosova) (1883-1936); the laywoman Kamilla Krušel'nickaja (1892-1937).
This case is not the only one pending for Catholics who testified to their faith in Christ during the Soviet regime and in the period immediately following the end of the USSR. In 2019, the cause of beatification of Eduard Profittlich SJ (1890-1942), Catholic Archbishop of Tallinn, sentenced to death, but died before execution due to the inhuman conditions to which he was subjected during his imprisonment, entered the Roman phase; and in 2020 Msgr. Bernardo Antonini (1932-2002), promoter of the rebirth of the Catholic Church in Russia and founder of the Catholic seminary of St. Petersburg, was declared Venerable.
According to the recent press release at the conclusion of the 57th Plenary Assembly of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, held near Novosibirsk from 28 February to 2 March, the Catholic community in Moscow will once again commemorate the 1923 trial from 7 to 9 November. The starting date of the celebrations coincides with the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, which took place on November 7, according to the Gregorian calendar. (CD) (Agenzia Fides, 1/4/2023)