Bishop Theodore Romzha: A Faithful Servant Martyred by Soviet Communists

Bishop Theodore Romzha: A Faithful Servant Martyred by Soviet Communists

During the chaotic period after World War II, Bishop Theodore Romzha from Eastern Ukraine strongly protected the Catholic Church from Soviet communism's harsh control.Born in 1911, Romzha hailed from the Ruthenian ethnic group, which follows the Byzantine liturgy and traditions of the Greek Catholic rite in communion with Rome.

Romzha's journey began with a mission to serve as a priest in Russia, a perilous endeavor during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. His ordination on Christmas Day 1936 set the stage for a higher purpose. Although initially assigned to a small parish in the Carpathian Mountains, he would soon face a pivotal choice amidst mounting communist hostility.

At the age of 33, Romzha became the Bishop of Mukachevo, Ukraine, during the Nazi occupation in 1944. His episcopal motto, "I love you, O Lord, my strength; you are my stronghold and my refuge!" reflected his unwavering faith, taken from Psalm 18.

Bishop Romzha's deep understanding of Marxism and Leninism, cultivated during his seminary years and time at the papal Russian college in Rome, prepared him for a different path than his earlier missionary aspirations.

Soviet troops invaded Eastern Ukraine, marking the onset of a brutal regime that showed no mercy to its opponents, including the Greek Catholic Church, to which Romzha belonged.

Soviet authorities forcibly confiscated churches and seminaries, demanding that Catholic clergy renounce the pope. In 1947, Romzha's resolve was put to the test when he refused to sever ties with Rome, even in the presence of Soviet General Ivan Petrov.

"Why must the young pious bishop die?" Bishop Milan Lach of Slovakia asked, emphasizing that Romzha chose martyrdom to bear witness to the truth and to exemplify the sacrificial love of the good shepherd for his flock. Romzha had the opportunity to escape but remained with his people until the end.

In a tragic turn of events in October 1947, a Soviet army truck deliberately rammed Romzha's horse-drawn carriage. Soldiers dressed as civilians mercilessly beat the bishop and his companions. After being taken to a hospital, Romzha, under the care of nuns, was poisoned with curare by a civilian nurse, an act orchestrated by the Soviet NKVD state security agency.

His death date, per the Soviet-imposed time zone, was recorded as November 1. Theodore Romzha became the last public bishop of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine until Soviet domination ended in 1991.

Research later unveiled that the assassination was personally ordered by Nikita Khrushchev, a future Soviet premier, acting under dictator Josef Stalin's command.

The faithful legacy of Theodore Romzha, a hieromartyr in the Eastern Christian tradition, serves as a testament to unwavering dedication to one's calling. His beatification by Pope John Paul II in 2001 and Pope Francis' acknowledgment of the Byzantine-rite Catholics of Ukraine, who endured persecution and exemplified extraordinary faith, honor the memory of this devoted servant of Christ and the Church.

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