Will Be Beatified on September 30
Venerable Fr. Titus Zeman, SDB, was killed in hatred of the faith at 54 years of age and will be beatified on September 30 in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Msgr. Angelo Becciu, substitute for general affairs of the Vatican Secretariat of State, communicated the decision to Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, postulator general for Saints’ Causes of the Salesian Family, on March 21.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will represent Pope Francis at the celebration of the rite.
Fr. Zeman was born in Vajnory, Slovakia, on January 4, 1915, the son of peasant farmers who were also the sacristans of their parish church. He suffered various illnesses from early childhood. After a sudden recovery at the age of 10, he promised Mary to “be her son forever” and to become a Salesian priest.
He became a novice in 1931, made his perpetual profession in 1938, and was ordained in 1940. He remained steadfast against the Communist regime. In 1946 he was dismissed from the school where he taught because he defended the crucifix. He managed to escape the “Night of the Barbarians” and the deportation of religious (April 13-14, 1950). He then looked for ways to help Salesian seminarians reach the priesthood. He organized expeditions to pass them through the Iron Curtain to Turin, but on his third venture (April 1951) he was caught.
Fr. Zeman had to face about 13 years of wrongful imprisonment and torture, experiencing hardship in prison and labor camps. He was forced to endure long periods of isolation and to work with radioactive uranium without any protection. He was branded as a “man marked for elimination.” In 1964 he was given five years on parole but was constantly spied on and persecuted. He was forbidden to exercise the priestly ministry publicly. He died in his home town on January 8, 1969, after a triple heart attack, a martyr for vocations.
Already at the time of his death he was regarded as a martyr. In 1991, following the fall the Communist government, a review of his case declared him innocent.
The inquiry for Fr. Titus Zeman’s beatification and canonization started only in 2007. The diocesan inquiry was held in the archdiocese of Bratislava from February 26, 2010, to December 7, 2012. The Congregation for Saints’ Causes certified the results of the inquiry on June 28, 2013.
When the positio (summary of the Servant of God’s life and virtues and of his reputation for holiness) was prepared, the CCS’s theological consultors discussed, according to the usual procedure, whether his death was a true martyrdom. Their vote in April 2016 was positive.
On February 21 of this year, the cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes rendered their own positive opinion concerning his martyrdom as an act of hatred of the Catholic faith on the part of the regime.
On February 27, in an audience granted to Cardinal Amato, Pope Francis authorized that Congregation to promulgate the decree confirming his martyrdom.
Fr. Zeman’s life and death bear witness to the vocational call of Jesus and a pastoral predilection for the young, especially for young Salesians, which were Fr. Zeman’s true passions. He once said, “Even if I lost my life, I would not consider it wasted, knowing that at least one of those I had helped had become a priest in my place.”
Fr. Jozef Izold, provincial of the Salesians in Slovakia, writes: “In collaboration with the archbishop of Bratislava, we have already started preparing for this extraordinary event. After 14 years we will have a new blessed in Slovakia, the first Slovak Salesian to be beatified. We joyfully invite all the faithful of the Slovak Church, the Salesian Family, and friends of the Salesians to set aside this date of September 30, 2017, in order to celebrate the beatification of Fr. Titus Zeman with us.”
Beatification is the intermediate step toward canonization, by which the Supreme Pontiff grants public ecclesiastical veneration to a Servant of God, limited to the places and manner established by law. The beatification ceremony will take place during a solemn Mass at which Cardinal Amato will read the apostolic letter of the Holy Father. After giving a spiritual portrait of the Servant of God, the Pope says solemnly that the Venerable Servant of God can be called “Blessed” and indicates the date of his feast, usually the dies natalis (the day of his birth into heaven, i.e., of his earthly death).
“The Church of God in Slovakia and the Salesian Family give thanks for this great gift of the beatification of the martyr Titus Zeman, and resolve to live with renewed fidelity the vocation we have received and to witness with courage even in times of trial and persecution,” commented Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni.