Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky’s story can offer us a great deal of inspiration as we face a multitude of struggles these days that may keep us from boldly living the Faith. A member of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Velychkovsky was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist congregation. As he began attracting more people, particularly with large processions of the faithful, Velychkovsky came under suspicion of the Soviet regime, the invading power in his native Ukraine. Eventually, the Soviets attempted to break down Velychkovsky by demanding his conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church. Refusing to abandon his communion with the Catholic Church, however, he confirmed his Catholic faith responding, “No. Never.”
The result was his unwarranted arrest in July 1945, and his subsequent sentencing to death by firing squad. Displaying a peaceful acceptance of his impending martyrdom, Velychkovsky was resentenced to 10 years of hard labor in a Siberian work camp. His difficulties did not deter the steadfast faith of the saintly priest, however, and accepted his assignment in serenity and peace, trusting in God’s will. While working mostly in coal mines, Velychkovsky secretly ministered to the people with whom he lived and toiled, providing for their spiritual and sacramental needs.
When Velychkovsky was released in 1955, he discovered that the Soviets had killed or exiled the majority of the clergy and hierarchy. Aware of the need for bishops who could teach, sanctify and govern the people of that region, the Holy See set its sights on Velychkovsky. He was requested to meet Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, the metropolitan archbishop for Ukraininan Catholics, in Moscow, not knowing the reason. Cardinal Slipyj had been imprisoned for nearly two decades but was released for travel to Rome to attend the Second Vatican Council. Upon entering the room, Velychkovsky was asked to kneel, and Cardinal Slipyj ordained him a bishop on the spot. (Velychkovsky had been named a bishop by the pope years earlier, but there was no bishop available to ordain him in Ukraine.)
Velychkovsky’s task was to help oversee the underground Church in Soviet-dominated Ukraine, and some even called him the “Father of the Underground Church.” With total trust in God’s providence, he discharged his tasks and responsibilities, presiding at secret ordinations, celebrating Masses and other sacraments in homes and convents, helping religious houses and monasteries find ways to live in secret, and offering spiritual advice to the countless visitors who flocked to his apartment, which served as something like a de facto cathedral.
In 1969, Velychkovsky was arrested again after publishing a book on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, for tuning in to Vatican radio and for performing baptisms. His punishment for three years was harsh physical, psychological and chemical torture. Despite this, he did not give in to Soviet demands to renounce the Faith or divulge sensitive information about the underground Church. In 1972, he was released and exiled to Canada.
Velychkovsky died a martyr’s death, as a result of his sufferings, in Winnipeg a year later on June 30, 1973. Velychkovsky was beatified along with several other Ukrainian martyrs in 2001. His life offers a heroic testimony of faithfulness to Christ and his Church, even amid overwhelming challenges and great sufferings.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.