WARSAW, Poland (CNS) — A Slovak Salesian priest who died from torture and radiation poisoning after forced labor in Czechoslovakia’s uranium mines is the latest communist-era martyr to be beatified.
Father Titus Zeman, who died in 1969, was hailed during a beatification Mass Sept. 30 in Petrzalka Park in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, himself a Salesian.
The Vatican official said Blessed Zeman had been under “genuine persecution” in the years following World War II as the newly installed communist government arrested clergy and suppressed Catholic schools and associations, but that he had shown “love is stronger than hatred” during his priesthood.
Blessed Zeman helped the Christian community “master its plight with courage and determination,” with its faith “strengthened by the testimony and blood of many believers,” the cardinal said.
Born in 1915, the oldest of 10 children, Blessed Zeman discovered his vocation after surviving childhood illnesses. He joined the Salesians in 1932 and was ordained in 1940.
He taught chemistry and natural sciences at Salesian schools during World War II, but he was fired by the communist regime after opposing the removal of classroom crosses.
Following the forced April 1950 closure of religious orders, he helped smuggle more than a dozen seminarians out of the country in two separate missions, but he was captured and charged with espionage and treason during a third in April 1951.
The priest was condemned to death in February 1952 after interrogation and torture in prison, but he had his sentence commuted to 25 years of forced labor. Released after 13 years, he was barred from ministering and kept under tight police surveillance, dying from mistreatment during the short-lived Prague Spring reform movement.
A beatification process for the priest was launched in 2010 by the Salesians.
In his homily, Cardinal Amato said Blessed Zeman was forced to manually work with uranium in the notorious Jachymov mine as a prisoner destined for “physical liquidation, like an insect” while also enduring the cold and exhaustion.
However, he added that the priest had “ignored the evil suffering,” refusing later to divulge the names of “informants and spies” who, by their own admission, had harmed him.
“This was a love which prompted him to live a heroic daily martyrdom, turning his prison life into a sacrifice of redemption for others,” Cardinal Amato said.
The beatification brings to more than 80 the number of communist-era Catholic martyrs honored in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.