An atheist at san Peter`s

By Nino Badano

(Summary translation from Italian)

 What is the meaning of Gromyko`s visit with the pope – persecution in the communist countries is still going on – Christians are imprisoned in spite of diplomatic agreements


In this article under the above headline published in “Lo Specchio” Nino Badano speculates on the real purpose of Gromyko’s visit to Italy. According to him the USSR attaches much more importance to holding conversations with Vatican leaders than with those of Rome. Although this may be only a conjecture that has to be taken with discretion he mentions in this connection the extraordinary interest the USSR has in the current Geneva conference on security and cooperation. While the delegates are stating their points, much publicity has been given in the USSR to projected missile launches in the Pacific, that is, super missiles capable of reaching any point on this globe. The wide publicity as well as the Soviet missile launches may be part of their well known policy of detente to which also belongs Gromyko’s visit to Rome.

Is there perhaps another country where the Communists can materialize their dreams without any risks? Is there another country where options and national political evolutions are so much influenced from outside as in Italy. Isn’t it a mere coincidence that while Gromyko arrived in Rome Italian bishops were convening for the purpose of deciding on the referendum?

Authoritative Vatican leaders agree in stating that “The Bishops were ill at ease” and that a public statement was a rather thorny subject because of the fact that the Vatican has not yet commented on this issue. In Italy the decision to hold a referendum has been considered a pain in the neck. It risked jeopardizing a work undertaken with a great deal of patience. Catholics were not even encouraged to reject the question of divorce.

For this reason Mgr. Bonicelli, the conference secretary, said that the Bishops have confirmed the doctrinal principles of the indissolubility of marriage but “they were careful not to urge Catholics to a crusade.”

Crusades are no more in fashion. The crusades most detested now are especially those the Catholics may wish to carry out in order to oppose Communism.

For this reason, a referendum was not desired because it would not please the Communists with whom they now try to come to an agreement. This also explains the embarrassing situations in with the Bishops are now finding themselves: how could they draw up the proclamation of an anticommunist referendum at a moment when Gromyko was visiting with the Pontiff? Could they show such a disrespect toward such an important visitor? Even without the indiscretions of leftist Vatican circles, the importance of this visit was too obvious. It was an historic visit both on the international and domestic level.

It would be too long to reconstruct the Vatican’s “Ostpolitik” that started with Willy Brandt. As a few milestones we might mention the frequent diplomatic missions to Belgrade, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest; the meetings in Moscow between high Catholic prelates and the heads of the Orthodox Church those diligent Communist Party officials dressed in cassocks; the separation of the dioceses in Selesia from the German jurisdiction in the occupied territories; the appointments of pro-Marxist bishops in Czechoslovakia such as that of Vrana, leader of the “Movement of Priests for Peace”; the deposition of Cardinal Slipyj from the functions and rank of Cardinal of the Ukrainian Church and, finally, the deposition of Mindszenty from the Primate of Hungary.

It is quite possible that there are still other acts or plans of which we have not yet been informed. To these we may count the Pope’s forthcoming trip to Poland in spite of the fact that local religious leaders and poles in exile have attempted to dissuade him from such an undertaking which the Communists will only use for their own purposes. This trip, of course, would put an end to all hitherto used condemnations, exclusions and vetoes and likewise to the procrusade spirit that intermittently has inspired the Italians.

Already Dmitri Panin, one of Solzhenitsyn’s friends during the time he was imprisoned accused the heads of the Russian Church of “having betrayed the believers in their vile docility while dealing with Soviet authorities,” and he “warned the West against the danger and tragic consequences that would result from trusting too much the Soviet regime.” It is an admonishment that apparently in the last place should be addressed to Catholics because no other institution has suffered as much at the hands of the Communists as the Church.

Catacombes in one of its last publications talks about the persecutions of Christians in Communist countries. The article originally appeared in “Vestnik Spassenia” a clandestine paper and mentions a trial that probably would not have astonished the world during the time of Roman emperor Diocletian but that took place in our time. Several men and women were charged with having been surprised by the police while participating in a religious service and having prevented their children from assisting the pioneer meetings where atheism is taught. The accused, to the surprise of all, answered their judges with the firmness of the martyrs of ancient times. Helen Berg, one of the accused said: “I am not afraid of finding myself for the eighth day on the bench of the accused.” “Someone may think that I am afraid. No, I am proud to be allowed to suffer for Christ. You are accusing the Christian of teaching the Bible to their children; on the other hand, you say that the Bible is a book anybody may read. If the Bible can be read by anyone, why do you forbid us to teach it. Be it as it may, I am standing here before you as a Christian. This trial has convinced me that the life of the Church is suffering. In the name of the Savior, I am ready to accept whatever punishment you may mete out to me.”

The other accused such as Mukhin, Rasumoski or Kusenko made similar statements. Mukhin thanked God for not finding himself in prison garment.

His life in prison started with a prayer. He fervently believes in God who will not abandon him.

Rasumoski: My sentence will tell my children that their father was not sentenced for a crime but of his faith.

Kusenko, already imprisoned for many months and frequently intimidated and threatened, made statements comparable to those of Cassian, Eusebius and the apologists of the 3rd century: “If prior to my arrest my children were merely reciting memorized prayers, they are now spontaneously addressing themselves to God asking Him to protect their imprisoned father. You hope you will succeed in intimidating our children. You are wasting your time…I was seven years old in 1937 when my father was arrested. I still remember the night when they came to take him from us. Up to the time of my own arrest I did not know what had become of him. When I was 14, I felt the urgent desire to follow his example.

To me, he became a guiding light, an ideal. Now I am thirty and I follow his way. Only after my arrest I found out what happened to him. They said that he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and that he died from cerebral embolism. However, I found out that he was sentenced to death and shot only because he was a Christian… If you sentence me you will take a father from his children. What will become of them? I supported them with my work. My wife who only earns 72 roubles can’t possibly do it… I know that the grain of truth will shoot forth one day. .. And, finally, before this tribunal I wish to proclaim those words that are dear to Christians the world over: “Christ has risen again.”

The sentences: Kusenko Juri, 5 years of hard labor; Mukhin Alexander, 5 years of normal imprisonment; Rasumoski Eugene, 4 years of normal imprisonment; Berg Helen, lost 20% of her wages for the duration of one year.

After we hear such reports we find it had to explain the present missions, dialogues and diplomatic agreements.

In a handwritten Russian letter composed by orthodox theologians and clandestinely distributed among the participants at the Zagorsk Synod the following warning addressed to the Christians of the West could be read: “The Church under Communism has been reduced to silence and its official representatives are all the time ready to declare that there is freedom of religion. Yet, it is the intention of the Soviet power not to subject the Church to the State or to reduce it to slavery but to destroy it. Enslavement and slavery are only steps to annihilation. While the State has declared war on faith and the Church, the Patriarchate pretends not to be aware of it; on the contrary, it attempts to convince all the world of the contrary. With our own eyes we have seen how the priests are failing their duties…Thieves are sneaking in at night because the soldier is not a good pastor. But the suffering of the new martyrs and confessors honors the Church. Indeed, the Church continues to exist thanks to the prayers of those Saints and unknown evangelization but not on account of maneuvers and agreements with Satan.”

This dramatic denouncement reported by Father Werenfried van Straaten in his famous bulletin concerns the Church of Moscow. The present colloquies, however, make it a topical subject for the West. The objective of Communism has always been the same: atheism has not been repudiated; religious freedom has not been restored. Today, they no more resort to those cruel persecutions that characterized the 50’s because they were producing effects to the contrary; today, they do not resort to arrests or dramatic trials as in the case of Mindszenty because they provoke emotion and disdain in the world. Yet, the Church continues to be oppressed and persecuted as then. It is denied any apostolic and missionary freedom.

Those who profess their religion, baptize their sons, attend church are banished. They have to be content with carrying out menial work and seeing their children excluded from school.

It is not true that anti-religious persecution has come to an end or lost its vigor. The hierarchy simply stopped making their denouncements because the Communist authorities, thanks to their intimidations or agreements, have obtained their silence.

The silence they want to impose in Italy is not very much different from the one in the USSR.

The priests and Catholic Marxists who said they would vote for divorce represent another step on the road of historic appeasements of which the Communists are so fond. 

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