Very Reverend Werenfried van Straaten congratulates Patriarch Josyf

Your Beatitude,

When in February 1963 you came to Rome and I was able to meet you there, you were no stranger to me. I had known the Ukrainian Church’s way to Calvary from the beginning of the 1950s and had spoken of you almost daily in countless sermons and conferences. Before we were able to give you material help, we prayed for you.

In August 1961 a sister wrote to me: “I want to do something to help a priest who is in prison”. I answered her: “I entrust the Archbishop of Lviv to you, the only one of the eleven Ukrainian bishops who has survived. Ukrainians all over the world are collecting signatures to obtain the release of their last archbishop. I ask you to offer your life as a religious sacrifice to the Lord for this intention”.

The sister replied: “On the 20th of December (1961) I shall receive the veil as a spouse of the Lord. I will pray for “my” bishop to implore liberty for him… on her wedding day a spouse may ask for everything”.

And on the 20th February 1963, after your arrival in Rome, the sister wrote: “I have never forgotten “my bishop” for a single day. How grateful I am that I was able to make a contribution to this happy event. I have received the gift I asked for at my religious profession. That day (the 20th of December 1961) we sang the antiphon: “O key of David, come and free the prisoner who lives in darkness and in the shadow of death!”

At that time, nineteen years ago, I wrote in the Mirror: “It is well known that the former prisoner Slipyj is endowed with a character of iron. His broken body hides an indomitable spirit. He is the most outstanding theologian of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the staunchest champion of the true Byzantine Line. He therefore represents a bridge to Orthodoxy and is the born leader of all eastern Christians who are united with Rome.

He is also a shepherd full of zeal who has left an indelible mark of his work as a priest in many a Soviet labor camp. He has thus become a universally recognized symbol in Russia, not only for Catholics but even more for the Orthodox Church, which is more easily found in Siberian concentration camps than with Patriarch Alexis of Nikodim”.

I do not think I was mistaken when I wrote those lines nineteen years ago. Nineteen years of contact and friendship with you, Your Beatitude, have confirmed my first judgment on your extraordinary personality. You are the worthy’s representative of the persecuted Church. I am more and more convinced that this persecuted Church, which has preferred to take on unheard-of sacrifices rather than share in short-lived advantages with collaborators and traitors, that this Church of Silence, calumniated and often deliberately forgotten, is the sure pledge of our salvation. That is why your Church deserves to be crowned with a Patriarchal dignity — and this is also the reason that our work honors in your person the Ukrainian persecuted Church!

Our work has six hundred thousand members. But since the 16th of November 1981 we have the possibility of conferring honorary membership: “Honorary membership of the Pious Association can be conferred on persons who have borne heroic witness for the Faith, and on persons who have distinguished themselves by special services rendered for the Church in Need. It pertains to the President and his Council to confer honorary membership” (Stat. Ur. 9).

It is for me a profound joy and a great honor to name you, on behalf of our new President, Archbishop Henri Lemaitre and his Council, the first Honorary Member of our Pious Association Aid to the Church in Need.

But as you are a practical man and know that one cannot live on honors and distinctions, I am happy to tell you on behalf of our finance commission that this year you will receive as a birthday gift from our Work one million dollars for your Ukrainian flock at home and in diaspora. And we hope and pray that on your hundredth birthday we shall be able to offer you at least twice as much! Ad multos annos!

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