BLESSED VASIL’ HOPKO (1904-1976), bishop
Today, the Church honors Blessed Vasil’ (Basil) Hopko, considered one of the many priests and religious martyred by Communism. He was born on April 21, 1904, in the small village of Hrabské in eastern Slovakia to poor parents. His father died when Vasil’ was only one year old and, when he was the age of four, his mother left for the United States in search of work, putting Vasil’ under the care of his grandfather.
When Vasil’ was seven, he went to live with his uncle, Demeter Petrenko, a Greek-Catholic priest. His uncle’s example awakened in Vasil’ a call to the priesthood, and, in 1923, he decided to enter the Greek-Catholic Seminary in Presov. He was ordained a priest in 1929 and was entrusted with the pastoral care of the Greek-Catholic faithful in Prague. Here, he was involved in many different activities: working with the youth, the elderly, the unemployed and orphans.
Father Vasil’ founded the Movement of Greek-Catholic Students and the Greek-Catholic Youth Union, and contributed to the building of the city’s Greek-Catholic parish, becoming its pastor. It was also in Prague that, after 22 years of separation, the young priest was finally reunited with his mother who had returned from the United States.
In 1936, Father Vasil’ returned to Slovakia where he served as a spiritual father in the seminary in Presov where he had previously studied. In 1941, he was appointed as secretary of the Bishop’s Curia, and he became professor of moral and pastoral theology at the Theological Faculty in Presov in 1943.
After World War II, the Czechoslovakian Republic fell under a growing Soviet Bolshevik and atheistic influence. To assist in defending against the attacks perpetrated upon the Greek-Catholic faithful and the Church in general, Father Vasil’ was appointed and ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Presov in 1947.
Little by little, the Czechoslovakian Communist Party prepared for the violent elimination of the Greek-Catholic Church in its nation. On April 28, 1950, the Communists carried out their work of “liquidation” during the so-called “Council of Presov”, under which the Greek-Catholic Church of Czechoslovakia was given no standing in the communist regime. Bishop Hopko was subsequently arrested.
Following the arrest, he underwent prolonged interrogations and torture in order to force him to deny his faith and confess to fabricated accusations. After more than a year of cruel and diabolic interrogations, and remaining true to Christ, he was condemned by the State Court to 15 years in prison and a loss of all civil rights for 10 years. While in prison, in addition to the torture he received, he was given small doses of arsenic which caused chronic poisoning.
On May 12, 1964, he was released from prison for health reasons. After years of mistreatment, Bishop Hopko suffered from grave physical ailments and mental depression caused by the constant torture and inhumane treatment received at the hands of his tormentors. Yet, in spite of all this, he continued to contribute actively to the resurgence of the Greek-Catholic Church.
In 1968, the renewal of the Church in Czechoslovakia was re-established, and Pope St. Paul VI confirmed Bishop Vasil’ Hopko’s appointment as Auxiliary Bishop for all the Greek-Catholic faithful in Czechoslovakia. Despite his continued weakness, He carried out this responsibility with great care, encouraging the faithful and ordaining priests.
Bishop Hopko died on June 23, 1976 in Presov with the words, “I want to go home.” He was beatified as Blessed Vasil’ by Pope St. John Paul II on September 14, 2003 at Bratislava during an apostolic journey to the Slovak Republic.
We commemorate his feastday on June 23.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com and vatican.va/news_services)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ bishop)
“Lord God, You counted Blessed Vasil’ among Your holy pastors, renowned for faith and love which conquered evil in this world. By the help of his prayers, keep us strong in faith and love and let us come to share his glory.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”