Russia’s Catholic Church has appealed to Western Christians to remember martyrs of Communist rule during the upcoming centenary of the 1917 Russian revolution, rather than just helping commemorate the country’s better-known dissidents.
“The sufferings in Soviet prisons and labour camps remain an issue for the whole of society here, not just religious communities,” said Mgr Igor Kovalevsky, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. “But stories of witness and martyrdom are universally known and respected. Churches have been built to those who died for their faith, who deserve to be compared to the martyrs of Christianity's first centuries.”
The priest was speaking amid preparations for the hundredth anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution, which heralded more than eight decades of communist rule.
In a Tablet interview, he said the work of dissidents such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) and Nadezhda Mandelstam (1899-1980) had become well known worldwide, but should not overshadow the tens of thousands of Christians who died for their beliefs.
At least 21 million people are believed to have died in repression, persecution and “terror famines” after 1917, including 106,000 Orthodox clergy shot during the 1937-8 Great Purge alone, according to Russian government data. A total of 422 Catholic priests were executed, murdered or tortured to death during the period, along with 962 monks, nuns and laypeople, while all but two of the Catholic Church's 1240 places of worship were forcibly turned into shops, warehouses, farm buildings and public toilets.
In his Tablet interview, Mgr Kovalevsky said the Catholic Church was ready to help commemorate all those who died, but was particularly concerned to preserve the memory of the Soviet Union’s Christian victims. Speaking earlier this year, Patriarch Kirill blamed the revolution's violence on "horrible crimes committed by the intelligentsia against God, the faith, their people and their country", and urged citizens to mark the centenary with “deep reflection and sincere prayer”.
PICTURE: 1933 image of one of Stalin's 'purge' committees