A PHOTO ACCOUNT OF MEETINGS
WITH SECRET PRIESTS IN CZECHOZLOVAKIA
The following pictures are intended to accompany the book Abandoned by the Vatican, an account of trips behind the Iron Curtain to Czechoslovakia to meet members of the author’s religious order, the Redemptorists, who had just been freed from jails and concentration camps and his activities on their behalf during the Cold War.
He recorded their stories of heroic resistance, brainwashing, and years of degradation and torture. At the main United States military headquarters in Germany and under the noses of soviet intelligence, the author recruited volunteers to set up a system to transport books to the underground churches. The project grew to include seminary libraries destroyed by communist purges, bishops, cardinals, priests, and other religious orders in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romania.
Not all secret priests wanted to reveal their stories. Their time in prison and in concentration camps left many painful memories, humiliations, and emotional scars. The prime of their life and the hopes of their priesthood had been stolen from them. They were weary and wanted to leave these memories in the past. Some spoke reluctantly with the urging of their Provincial, Father Jan Jaros, and with the trust that a fellow Redemptorist from the West would not betray them, as other people, as even friends and parishioners, had done in the past.
Some would not give their name or allow themselves to be photographed…so great was their fear of return to interrogation and persecution.
After a quick and stealthy walk through the alleyways and narrow streets of old Prague and along the labyrinthine corridors of the revered college of Christian traditions, the Clementinum, Father Jaros opened the door to a secluded room and introduced me to three worker priests who had just been released from the gauntlet of communist torture and imprisonment. Quietly and with agonizing hesitation they spoke of their ordeal at the hands of communist oppressors.
Showing signs of age and weariness, Father Rudolph spoke of conditions in jail. “We had to walk up and down the cell all day,” he said. “We were given six hours to sleep. Then walk the rest of the time. A bright light was on all day and night. They enjoyed torturing us. I do not want to relive it. It was too horrible.”
Shy and reluctant to tell his story, Father Karel talked about being forced to stand against the wall during interrogations. “Endless curses, threats, insults, obscenities were hurled at me,” he said. “There was endless walking…fifteen – sixteen hours of walking. At night, lying in bed was painful.”
Seated behind Father Jaros (who was holding his signature beret), Father Vasil seemed relieved at regaining his priestly dignity and forced a smile after speaking about his captors. “They were vicious in their hatred for priests,” he said. “Four or five times an hour, all night, we had to stand up and give our names. It was Russian torture methods by Czech tormentors. They were more zealous – more Russian than the Russians. I just want to run from the memory of all this.”
GIFTS FOR CHRISTMAS 1969
Father Jaros, the Redemptorist Provincial, examined the gifts I brought to him: the long-sought after books on the liturgy, the readings at Mass, bible commentaries, theological works, the Mass vestments and chalices.
He smiled with relief and stated, “Vergelt’s Gott. (May God reward you.) We’re coming back from the grave. We’re coming alive again.”
On a map pinned to the wall of his kitchen Father Jaros pointed out the areas in Czechoslovakia where he had planned to set up 14 Redemptorist communities of priests and brothers just released from prisons and concentration camps.
Father Novak, a Redemptorist who worked as a gardener during the day, surprised us with a visit late at night. He stated that he felt he could not return to work as priest in a parish. “I am too old and couldn’t do it. The end is near,” he said.
FATHER ANTONIN LISKA
In a small hamlet on the outskirts of Prachatitz the construction worker and secret priest, Antonin Liska lived with his mother in the family home.
Despite overwhelming difficulties and police surveillance Father Liska would travel miles by foot at night to visit the sick and dying. “I hope someday to be named a parish priest nearby…Atheism is all around. I don’t know how the younger generation will develop, he said. “The Church is not yet lost.” Years later he received his license to work as a parish priest and eventually became Bishop of Ceske Budejovice.
The author, Jack Doherty, is standing on the left.
FATHER JAROSLAV ADAMEK
After Christmas dinner at a house in Brno, Slovakia, Father Adamek promised to tell his story. As soon as the tape recorder was produced, he got up from the table and walked around the whole house to check that no one else was in the house and no listening devices could be found. Fear and suspicion compelled him to be cautious. Interrogation and imprisonment were penalties for carelessness.
Father Adamek emotionally recounted his years of interrogation, torture and imprisonment in prisons and concentration camps. “My remembrances are like a bad dream,” he said. “I had great hunger and cold. It was wintertime and I had nothing on my feet. I could not bend my knuckles or knees because of the pain from hunger. The jail cells were freezing. The windows stayed open all of the time.”
FROM SECRET PRIEST/WINDOW WASHER TO CARDINAL
Insisting that we (Father Jaros and myself) pay him a visit as soon as we get to his diocese, Bishop Josef Hlouch donned his robes and cheerily announced that he believes ” the Church will once again win”. He was under constant surveillance at his residence. He passed away the year after our visit.
Several months later his secretary, Father Miloslav Vlk (standing behind him), was forced into an assignment in the farmlands of Bohemia because of his outstanding apostolic activity. Later communist bureaucrats took away his state license to function as a priest and he was forced to take a job as a window washer in Prague. He then became a secret priest administering the sacraments to his underground church. When the communist government fell, he was reinstated as a priest and was consecrated as a bishop by the Redemptorist Bishop Antonin Liska. In 1992 he was consecrated Cardinal Archbishop of Prague.
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