HISTORY/ The Christian martyrs under Communism forgotten by the West
Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest killed my Communists
No one, or almost no one, in the West talks about Communism any more. The ideology that dominated the minds of millions is now an unpopular subject, a weight of ideas too “strong” for the years in which the pieces of weak thought are being collected. However, it is worthwhile to explore how Communism’s spiritual legacy still conditions the historical memory of the West. A special chapter might be given to the martyrs for the Christian faith under Communism, who seem fated to become “strangers” to history like Communism itself. IlSussidiario.net spoke with Philippe Chenaux, church historian, professor at the Pontifical Lateran University, and author of L’ultima eresia (The Last Heresy. The Catholic Church and Communism in Europe from Lenin to John Paul II), on these themes.
Professor Chenaux, in light of your latest book, what do you think is the deep relationship between Christianity and Communism? What differentiates your thesis from the well-known “truth gone crazy” thesis about Communism?
I take up a judgment made by the philosopher Jacques Maritain, who I quote. I believe that one cannot think of Communism outside of a Judeo-Christian culture. As Maritain says, one can find, in the values ??of Communism (social justice, dignity of the worker, etc.), a “residue” of the Judeo-Christian inheritance separated from the rest of that inheritance and inserted, so to speak, in a materialistic and atheistic conception of existence. This residue explains a large part of the formidable power of attraction that Communism had for the masses in the West, and especially in Catholic circles.
The theme of the martyrs of the faith under Communism is popular in the East and not in the West. It seems the stories of people like Mindszenty, Beran, or, more recently, Popieluszko have been forgotten. Why did this happen?
We must note that the two “monsters” of the century did not receive the same treatment in collective memory. In a work which appeared a few years ago, the French historian Alain Besancon evoked “the Christian oblivion about communism” (Le malheur du siècle. Communisme. Nazisme. Shoah, Paris, 1998). "Assuming that there were more martyrs for the faith under Communism than in any other period of Church history, there was no hurry or zeal to compile the martyrology," he writes. This finding of amnesia can surely be modified if we think of a number of works and publications dedicated to the Christian martyrs of the twentieth century that provide ample space for the victims of Communist oppression. I am thinking in particular of the work of Andrea Riccardi, Il secolo del martirio (The Century of Martyrdom. Christians in the Twentieth Century). Besançon’s analysis, which is very provocative and not free from ideological assumptions, however, touches a sensitive point: that of the rather small space given to studies of Communism in the sphere of recent religious history. I wanted to write this book for this reason, to fill a gap.
What relationship does this have with the perception of the Communist regimes in the free world?