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Review: When God was not watching

3s.jpg####photo: Spectator archives##-PEREX- DURING communism, Christian clergymen were enemies of the state and the communist regime tried to erase them from public life. They were heavily persecuted, interrogated, imprisoned and their property confiscated. No wonder that after the regime collapsed in 1989, the number of open believers markedly increased in Slovakia.
But is Christianity ever going to be the same as before the communists seized power? How much did the regime affect Christianity in then Czechoslovakia, a religion that had had a presence in the region for over a thousand years? And how has it survived after all that has happened?


photo: Spectator archives

The Night of the Barbarians
Written by: Ján Chryzostom Cardinal Korec, S.J.
Forewords by: Pope John Paul II and Václav Havel
Pages: 475
Available at: Eurobooks, Jesenského 5-9, Bratislava
Price: Sk399
Rating: 9 out of 10

DURING communism, Christian clergymen were enemies of the state and the communist regime tried to erase them from public life. They were heavily persecuted, interrogated, imprisoned and their property confiscated. No wonder that after the regime collapsed in 1989, the number of open believers markedly increased in Slovakia.

But is Christianity ever going to be the same as before the communists seized power? How much did the regime affect Christianity in then Czechoslovakia, a religion that had had a presence in the region for over a thousand years? And how has it survived after all that has happened?

Thanks to the American Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, a lively testimony of those times and what happened to the Church has just been published in English. The Night of Barbarians is an autobiography written by 78-year-old Ján Chryzostom Cardinal Korec, who not only devoted his entire life to God but also suffered for it.

In the book's almost 500 pages, Korec, who decided to become a priest at the age of 10, relates the events that took place after the communist takeover in 1948. While several of his stories make the reader both cry and smile, others are deeply philosophical and some focus on explaining the Church's structure. Despite being written by a priest, the book's aim is by no means to turn a non-believer into a believer.

He begins his narration by painting a vivid picture of what happened April 13, 1950, an event that has become known as 'the night of the barbarians', when the communist militia and police emptied and ruined all the monasteries in Czechoslovakia. At this dark moment Korec remembers his 'brother' going back into the building to get a soccer ball after everyone had been ordered outside by gun-toting police. This funny story was evidence that their spirits remained unbroken.

A year later, after all the Catholic bishops had been imprisoned or forced to flee the country, and the government had put its own collaborative clergy in place, the 27-year-old Korec was secretly consecrated a bishop. Since that point Korec's life was in constant danger because he was ordaining priests in secret.

In 1960, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Being forced by the communists to leave the monastery was quite a shock for Korec, who had been cut off from the rest of the world for over a decade.

He found work in factories, and later served eight years in prison after having been convicted of treason for his underground clerical activities. This was blessing in disguise because it gave him the opportunity to meet all sorts of people he would not otherwise have come in contact with, thus enriching his preaching of the Gospel and allowing others to learn from his wisdom. During the Dubček era - a short reprieve from the intense regime - he was set free.

This book should receive credit for its excellent English translation, which makes it a smooth and easy read. A particularly useful aspect of the book is its short explanations of events, people and things mentioned in the text. It is obvious that the translators were very well versed in Slovak history because they managed to explain it well. It is a pity, though, that the book's index lists only people and not also events and places.

Despite such defects, including the omission of the accent on the 'a' of the author's first name on the cover, the book is like a torch for outsiders, illuminating a bit of Slovakia's dark history as well as serving as the precious testimony of a person who played an important role in it.

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