Detroit, Mich., Oct 22, 2023 / 05:00 am
After the end of hostilities between Nazi Germany and the forces allied with the United States in 1945, the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe began with violence targeting Catholics, especially those of the Greek rite. The young Bishop Theodore Romzha of Mukachevo in eastern Ukraine had tried to not antagonize the increasingly violent communist government, but soon, he faced a dire choice similar to St. Thomas More, who chose martyrdom centuries before in England.
Born in 1911, Romzha came from Ruthenia — an ethnic and religious enclave in the Carpathian Mountains of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire that straddles modern Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine. He was a Rusyn, an East Slavic ethnic group that entered the Catholic Church in the late 800s through the work of the missionary saints Cyril and Methodius.
The majority of Rusyns are of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic rite in communion with Rome that shares the rich Byzantine liturgy and traditions of their Orthodox Christian neighbors. They are found in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Many immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s, especially to Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Romzha prepared for missionary work as a priest in Russia: a virtual death sentence after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. He was ordained to the priesthood on Christmas Day 1936.