A ceremony was held on Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in the city Brno affirming the beatification of two Czech priests who were killed by the communist regime in the early 1950s. In a laborious process stretching back to 2004, priests Jan Bula and Václav Drbola could ultimately be declared saints by the Vatican.
Members of the Czech bishopric gathered in Brno’s most visible historical landmark – the Petrov Cathedral – on Saturday to partake in a ceremony in which they presented evidence that had been collected during 11 years of research into the lives of two candidates for beatification. The ceremony marks the end of the so-called diocese phase, combining historical research and formal hearings by a tribunal into whether candidates should be recommended for beatification. This decision, which is ultimately made by the Vatican, means that such persons are then declared to be venerated and “blessed” – a key step on the way towards potential canonisation.
Jan Bula and Václav Drbola were two priests who, from the late 1940s, practiced in the Vysočina region of Czechoslovakia near the town of Třebíc – Bula in Rokytnice nad Rokytnou and Drbola in Babice. Both found themselves caught up in the complex 1950s “Babice case” involving the murder of local regime officials by supposed anti-communist agents – but quite likely communist secret police acting as provocateurs seeking to justify a clampdown on rural populations, and the Church in particular, who were resisting collectivization efforts. Drbola and Bula, who were lured into the scheme via an apparent bid to help a fellow priest escape to the West, were imprisoned, brutally tortured and found guilty of treason. They were ultimately hanged in 1951 and 1952 respectively.
Since the 1990s, the pair have been subject to rehabilitation efforts, including having their deaths recognized as acts of martyrdom for their faith.
In Saturday’s ceremony, the gathered evidence was closed via a wax seal, thus ending the investigative part of the process. Czech priest Karel Orlita, head of the Brno-based Academy of Canonical Law was tasked with overseeing the evidence collection. He commented on the difficulty of accessing many previously sealed communist secret police documents:
“It wasn’t easy, as the process started just when these sources were being made available…These documents will now go to Rome to be presented to a beatification congregation. They will be ceremonially opened under the supervision of the Prefect and other members of the congregation. They will be checked for any damage. Everything is then administratively catalogued again. And then the evidence is studied.”
Orlita also noted that no timeframe is set for the completion of the beatification process, and that it could take as long as five years to be formally approved.
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