Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Blessed Martyr Vasyl Velychkovsky

Блаженний Священномученик Василь Величковський, Blessed Martyr Vasyl (Basil) Velychkovsky, was born on June 1, 1903 into a priestly family in Western Ukraine. His father was a priest, as were both of his grandfathers. After serving as a rifleman in World War I, Vasyl entered the Major Seminary in Lviv, Ukraine. He was ordain a deacon by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky in 1924 and joined the Redemptorist Congregation. On October 9, 1925, he was ordained to the priesthood by the Most Reverend Josyf Botsian, Bishop of Lutsk. After resisting polonization and the oppression of both Nazism and, in particular, Communism, which at times included being tortured and other serious physical and mental hardships, he was secretly consecrated bishop by Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj in a Moscow hotel room on February 4, 1963.

Blessed Vasyl had been appointed to the episcopate in 1959, but there were no bishops in Ukraine who were free to consecrate him. They were all either in prison or in exile. Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj had been freed from prison by the Soviets so that he could attend the Second Vatican Council in Rome. Saint Pope John XXIII was able to negotiated his release since he was the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. United States President John F. Kennedy also assisted in the negotiations that secured Metropolitan Slipyj’s release, which allowed the secret episcopal ordination of Blessed Vasyl in room 624 of Hotel Moskva.

On January 27, 1969, Blessed Vasyl was arrested by the Soviets after writing a book on Our Mother of Perpetual Help. His trial took place in Lviv on September 23, 1969, and he was sentenced to three years’ incarceration in a hard labour correctional institution. The sentence was served in a psychiatric hospital in Komunarsk. He was injected with drugs that systematically caused him heart disease and destroyed his nervous system. He was also tortured with electric shock. A Basilian Sister in Kyiv, Sr. Justyna, described him upon his release on January 27, 1972, as gaunt, filled with paranoia, very weak, and emotionally shattered. The sight of him brought tears to her eyes.
After visiting his sister Vera in Zagreb, then Yugoslavia, he discovered that his passport would not let him return to Ukraine and that he had been unknowingly exiled. After three weeks in Zagreb, where his poor health was treated by his nephew, Dr. Nikolych, Blessed Vasyl travelled to Rome on February 22, 1972, to live with exiled Major Archbishop [Patriarch] Josyf Slipyj. While in Rome, he met with Blessed Pope Paul VI and told him of the plight and status of the underground Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.  After obtaining a visa, Blessed Vasyl came to Canada on June 15, 1972, on the invitation of Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk to come live in Winnipeg. Upon arriving in Canada, his cousin-in-law, Dr. Zenon Matwichuk, took him under his medical care, but on June 30, 1973, Bishop Vasyl died a martyr’s death from the previous administration by the Soviets of harmful chemicals and electrical torture.  While in Canada, he visited all five Canadian Ukrainian Catholic eparchies, giving the annual priests’ retreats, and travelled to Newark, Philadelphia, and other centres in the United States.

Bishop Vasyl’s martyrdom was verified by the Assembly of Cardinals on April 23, 2001, and the following day, April 24th, Saint Pope John Paul II signed a decree for his beatification. Along with Bishop Nykyta Budka (the first Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop of Canada) and other Ukrainian Catholic martyrs, Bishop Vasyl was beatified by Saint John Paul II on June 27, 2001, in Lviv during the pontiff’s pastoral visit to Ukraine. When Blessed Martyr Bishop Vasyl’s body was exhumed to be transferred to a shrine built in St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg on September 22, 2002, it was discovered that his body had remained incorrupt.

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