A resistance hero returns home


Catholic Herald, 27 April 2018

We must not forget the heroic witness offered by the Church’s pastors in the face of totalitarianism

And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for Joseph had solemnly sworn the people of Israel, saying, “God will visit you; then you must carry my bones with you from here”
– Exodus 13:18-19

Joseph’s bones were carried home this past week. Not Joseph, the son of Jacob, after hundreds of years in Egypt, but Josef Cardinal Beran, after 49 years in Rome. On April 23, the remains of Cardinal Beran were buried in St Vitus Cathedral in Prague, transferred from the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Beran died in Rome in 1969, exiled from what was then Czechoslovakia. Appointed archbishop of Prague in 1946, his refusal to betray the faith at the behest of the communist regime led to his house arrest and imprisonment. In 1963 he was released, but prevented from exercising his office as archbishop. Finally, in early 1965, he was permitted to go to Rome in permanent exile, where Blessed Paul VI made him a cardinal in February 1965. He remained in Rome until his death, with Pope Paul himself rushing to the deathbed to honour the noble pastor.

After his death, the Holy Father extended to Beran the rare honour of burial in the Vatican crypt, usually reserved only for popes. Beran was buried near the tomb of St Peter, and there he waited – according to his own final wishes – for a time to return in death to the cathedral in Prague where in life he was never allowed freely to exercise his ministry.

He may have taken a lead in this from the example of Pope Leo XIII who, for the entirety of his long pontificate during the “prisoner of the Vatican” period, never visited his own cathedral in Rome. He therefore chose to be buried in St John Lateran – the Roman cathedral – instead of in the Vatican, the more recent papal residence.

During the Second World War, Fr Beran was not afraid to defy the Nazis, for which he was imprisoned in Dachau for nearly three years. It was the largest “monastery” in the world, as so many priests were imprisoned there. Upon the end of the war, in the brief respite before the Soviet empire tightened its grip on Czechoslovakia, Beran was given the highest national honours, including designation as a “Hero of the Resistance”.

We ought to note the translation of Cardinal Beran’s remains because no occasion should be missed to remind new generations of one of most noble chapters in the history of the Church, namely the heroic witness offered by the Church’s pastors in the age of the totalitarians.

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