(ANS – Rome, 7 January 2019) – The liturgical memorial of the Salesian blessed Fr Titus Zeman coincides this year with the 50th anniversary of his ascent to Heaven, which took place in his town of birth, Vajnory, Slovakia, on 8 January 1969.

On that day a long Calvary ended, one that began in April 1951, when he was arrested, then tried, transferred from one prison to another until March 1964; then followed 5 years of life in conditional freedom, with relentless harassment, persistent and harsh persecution and health issues due to imprisonment.

Fr Zeman had fought against death for 18 long years: and in the end he surrendered only to his Lord. The nurse who assisted would say she: “had never seen a man fight so much against death.”

The funeral on the following 11 January was a triumph of faith and affection. Several dozen priests concelebrated, challenging the regime’s prohibitions. Some of the boys whom he had helped become priests rushed to participate in the event. Even the regime’s spies, present in the crowd, reported in their confidential reports that he had been defined “martyr”.

Fr Andrej Dermek, then Provincial of the Salesians in Slovakia, could henceforth pronounce these words with good reason: “We meet in the cemetery … like the first Christians in the catacombs. Perhaps it is thus for us religious. Life has dispersed us, but death brings us together […] In this place today begins to rest the fighter who fought to the end, the priest who finished celebrating the Mass of his life. This is a departure […]. His life was always and everywhere a priestly life.”

Fr Zeman would accompany young Salesians in Turin to complete their studies in Theology and to be ordained as priests: he did not make them fugitives, but responsible people, able to form themselves at best for the service of the people of God. The most true and fullest judgment on life and the sacrifice of Fr Zeman comes from those who knew him; of him, they said: “He was a saint and he died a martyr.” On 30 September 2017, in fact, he was beatified as a martyr in Bratislava.

Special celebrations will be held at the Provincial House in Bratislava and in the birthplace of Vajnory, where the mortal remains are kept in an urn. A solemn concelebration will be held in Rome, presided by the Rector Major, at the Basilica del Sacro Cuore.