Cardinal Priest of Ss Fabiano e Venanzio a Villa Fiorelli
Cardinal JŠn Chryzostom Korec, Bishop of Nitra (Slovak Republic), was born on 22 January 1924 at Bosany in the diocese of Nitra. He entered the Society of Jesus on 15 September 1939; he had to interrupt his philosophy studies in 1950, following the suppression of the order. He was ordained a priest on 1 October 1950 at the age of 26, and on 24 August 1951 at age 27, he received episcopal ordination clandestinely by Bishop Pavel Hnilica.
"There is a man in Bratislava whom the atheist Communist party fears. He is called JŠn Korec and he works as an ordinary laborer in a large factory. Although he suffers from asthma he was forced to do heavy labor: to load and unload large drums of tar daily. When his strength gave out no one had compassion on him, because he was a citizen in the third category, that is, on his documents was stamped "accused of treason to his country"'. This was written by the foreign press about JŠn Korec in 1976 on the occasion of his 25th anniversary of his ordination.
Korec has an incredible story to tell. In the 20th century Church of the catacombs he developed his human and spiritual personality. His extraordinary story began in 1949, when the communists came to power in Czechoslovakia. By the end of 1950 all the organizations of the Church in Czechoslovakia were paralyzed. The bishops were thrown in prison or under house arrest; three thousand diocesan priests incarcerated; religious, sisters, and seminarians deported; monasteries, convents and ten out of twelve seminaries closed. "The Church in Czechoslovakia is on its knees," wrote Cepikca, the minister for ecclesiastical affairs.
The imprisoned bishops began to think about the future of the Church. They had to plan for the ordination of priests and bishops. Among those chosen was JŠn Korec, ordained in 1950 and just one year later made a bishop. The ceremony was performed secretly in the presence of only a few witnesses. JŠn was only 27 years old, the youngest bishop ever in the world.
Working in a factory for nine consecutive years, he carried on his priestly mission and that of bishop without being discovered by anyone. He was a brother to all. Arrested in 1960, he continued to be the friend of all in prison, and for twelve years he celebrated Mass every day. Those who prayed with him were mainly young prisoners. Yet, the most difficult experience was being put into isolation. This is his personal testimony: "Surely this was the most terrible punishment. Yet necessity is the mother of invention, so I discovered a very simple system to break up the isolation. I imagined I was making spiritual exercises. I followed a very detailed and intense daily program. I began in the morning with a good hour of meditation, just as I had done in the convent. Then, Holy Mass. For this I had only bread and wine: but that was enough to give me such joy. After Mass, my program of studies began: I reviewed from memory theological and philosophical texts, discussing them out loud as if I was at the university, in front of the professors. When I felt tired I relaxed by singing religious songs. Then I continued to study and pray. The evening arrived without being able to complete the whole program that I had planned. After, when I was transferred from the isolation chamber to a new common cell, I felt spiritually stronger as if I really had completed a series of spiritual exercises."
While interned at Valdice (Northern Bohemia), Korec repeatedly asked for rehabilitation. He wrote to the Minister of Justice in Slovakia the following: "I have not admitted nor do I admit ever having consciously committed an infraction of the law and the Constitution, of which I am accused. I have already made public my opinion on the proceedings of the case and I will not change it. I do not contest the fact of having helped young people in their theological study and having ordained priests, but I refuse to consider these acts a crime and much less treason. I began the twelve years of my sentence convinced of being a victim of open retaliation sustained in conditions of absolute physical and juridical impotence. Only criminals are punished with twelve years of detention... the trial I was given served the Slovak justice system badly. Regarding the accusation of having had contacts with capitalists and landowners because of being destitute..., I can respond never having even considered it. I have been educated in an environment of poverty and I am acquainted with social problems not from books, but from real life. The accusation of being faithful to the Pope, I take to be an honor. This fidelity does not need the approval or consent of anyone. Prison has not diminished this fidelity. It is just this that has allowed me to tolerate prison. A trial should serve to defend the weakest, if law is on their side. Justice can only serve Truth: this is written on the palace of Justice in Bratislava. Courageous and honest Slovak men have fought throughout history for this justice. I do not ask for mercy: I simply appeal to the Truth, to the Law and to Justice. The injustices I have personally experienced can be forgotten. But I can never renounce Truth and Justice."
Rehabilitated in 1968 following a general amnesty, JŠn Korec left prison seriously ill. In 1969 during a new trial the judge totally rehabilitated Bishop Korec. He left the hospital, and worked first as a street cleaner in Bratislava and then at a tar factory. But his health failed. He offered the first hour of work for the Pope, the second for the Bishop, the third for the young, and so on. Every hour had a spiritual intention. In 1974 his rehabilitation of 1969 was annulled. Bishop Korec was again imprisoned to finish off the four years remaining of the earlier sentence. He was subsequently released because of poor health.
He lost his work as a street cleaner and entered the ranks of the unemployed until he found a position as a warehouse keeper in a chemical producing factory, where he had to unload barrels. His "way of the cross" as a laborer lasted until he had completed his sixtieth year.
On 6 February 1990 the Holy Father appointed Mons. Korec, Bishop of Nitra. For a few years he was president of the Slovak Bishops' Conference.
He is the author of over 60 volumes, many of which have been published in various countries.
In a letter sent to the Pope on 25 March 1990, Bishop Korec repeated his total obedience to the successor of Peter, thanked the Pope for the gift of the pectoral cross, recalling his 38 years of faithful mission lived according to the instructions of Pius XII given in 1951 and in the last ten years under the directives received from John Paul II.
In an interview released to the newspaper "CAS" (Il Tempo) in April 1990, Bishop Korec spoke of fearing only the pride of men, of groups and peoples.... "If one lives the commandment of love, he repeated, people in prison will change." In another interview granted to "La Civiltŗ Cattolica" (21 February 1987), Bishop Korec responded to a journalist who asked him some details about his past life: "I don't give my self much credit. The more the years pass, the more I see clearly that all that is important belongs to grace, that is to God."
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by John Paul II in the consistory of 28 June 1991. Titular church, Sts. Fabian and Venantius at Villa Fiorelli.