ROME – In another gesture of solidarity with the beleaguered nation of Ukraine, Pope Francis Friday recognized the martyrdom of Father Petro Paolo Oros, a priest from the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo, Ukraine, who was shot to death by the Soviets in August 1953.
With the recognition, the green light has now been given for Oros’s beatification.
Oros was born in July 1917, in the Hungarian village of Biri, into a pious Christian family, but he was orphaned at a young age. His father, a Greek Catholic priest, disappeared when Oros was just two years old; when he was nine, his mother died.
In 1937, Oros entered the Greek Catholic seminary in Uzghorod, a city in western Ukraine situated along the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.
According to a brief biography published on Vatican News, the Vatican’s state-run media platform, Oros, after his ordination, began conducting pastoral outreach as vice-pastor in several small villages and quickly gained a reputation for his pastoral zeal and attention to the poor.
In 1943, amid the Second World War, he attended a course for military chaplains in the Košice region of Slovakia. He then returned to his parish, which, by 1944, had fallen back under Soviet occupation.
Before long, Russian soldiers imposed the Communist Party’s campaign of religious persecution, destroying churches, synagogues, and mosques, and harassing, incarcerating, and executing clergy and religious leaders.
Much of the Christian community was clandestine, and priests at the time were forced to celebrate the sacraments underground.
Oros was transferred to the Ukrainian village of Bilky, near the city of Irshava, where he resisted increasing pressure to join the Russian Orthodox Church. Despite the efforts at coercion, Oros maintained loyalty to the pope.
In 1949, pastoral activities were forbidden and all Greek Catholic churches in Ukraine were closed, and the Mukachevo eparchy was suppressed.
Despite the ongoing persecution, Oros continued his pastoral activities in secret as religious leaders around the country were systematically imprisoned or executed, celebrating Masses and administering the sacraments underground.
An arrest warrant was issued against Oros in 1953, and while he tried to escape, he was caught by a policeman and shot to death on Aug. 28 of that year at a train station in Siltse, in southwestern Ukaine.
His death was immediately described as a martyrdom by the local Greek Catholic community, who increasingly invoked his intercession.
The Vatican announced the pope’s recognition of Oros’s martyrdom on the same day that Pope Francis met with Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, president of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow.
Anthony was appointed in June following the ouster of his predecessor, Metropolitan Hilarion, due to alleged disagreements within the Moscow patriarchate over the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Francis’s meeting with Anthony also falls days after the Vatican announced that he will be traveling to Kazakhstan in September for a high-profile interfaith congress, where he could meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who has said he will also attend.
In addition to Oros, Pope Francis advanced several other causes for canonization, recognizing the heroic virtue of five Servants of God, who will now receive the title “venerable.”
These causes include Jesús Antonio Gómez Gómez, a diocesan priest from Colombia, and Umile da Genova, who was born Giovanni Giuseppe Bonzi, and is the founder of Sorriso Francescano, a center that assists poor, orphaned and abandoned children, and which was established shortly after the Second World War.
Other causes include Spanish Father Giovanni Sánchez Hernández, who belonged to the Sodality of the Diocesan Worker Priests of the Heart of Jesus and founded the Institute of the Secular Servants of Jesus Christ the Priest with the aim of assisting priests in their ministry.
Pope Francis also moved forward the cause of Vittorio Coelho de Almeida, a Brazilian Redemptorist who provided pastoral services at the famed Marian shrine of Aparecida, where he had been sent to recover from a bout of tuberculosis.
While there, Coelho de Almeida joined the broadcast team of Radio Aparecida, which began broadcasting in 1951. He became deputy director in 1958 and was named general manager in 1965. Throughout his time there, he became a reliable confidant, and many turned to him for advice and help with various problems.
Also advanced Friday was the cause of Indian Ursuline nun and mystic, Maria Celina Kannanaikal, who faced resentment, complaints, and criticism from her congregation for a series of mystical experiences she had.
Both other novices and community superiors were suspicious, and attempts were made to block her from professing her vows. She also suffered from various physical ailments, but she was known for her joy and composure despite the obstacles, and, after an unusual delay, she was eventually permitted to make her profession.
Kannanaikal began teaching in primary schools, but soon became ill with episodic fevers accompanied by headaches and vomiting, which doctors were unable to diagnose. She died in 1957 at the age of 26, just 35 days after making her religious profession.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen