When the communists took over Hungary after World War II, they tried to end all practice of religion. Immediately in Transylvania they closed the Shrine of the Madonna of Csiksomlyo and expelled the Hungarian Franciscans, its guardians, from the country. They mistakenly thought the devotion ended there.

From the 14th century that shrine had been a favorite destination, but especially beginning in 1567, a time when its fortress church stood in a dangerous spot in the Carpathian Mountains near the then Romanian border (Transylvania, a contested borderland, is currently part of Romania). The Turkish empire was to the south, the Tartars to the east.

The Hungarians were the only Catholics at this strategic crossroads of culture and religion, and were soon attacked in the Reformation War. Besieged in the shrine for three months, the Catholics decided on the eve of Pentecost to give up the next day. Execution was certain.

But overnight, the attacking armies decided victory was impossible. By sunrise, all troops had vanished. It was called a miracle and attributed to Mary's intervention. Her victory was celebrated at every succeeding Pentecost.

When the communists closed the shrine in this century, the celebration was forbidden and Mary's beloved miraculous statue was sealed away. The friars had to leave empty-handed. But their suppression in Hungary spread their unique devotion to Western shores. In 1957, shortly after these Franciscans arrived in America, Bishop Emmett Walsh invited them to settle in the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio. After several years they accomplished their goal to build a shrine to the Madonna of Csiksomlyo in this country.

Their vision materialized in the Belle Vista section of Youngstown once they obtained an old mansion and 37 acres. The cornerstone for the chapel of their shrine was laid in 1963 on the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Mother. A year later, the shrine was dedicated on the feast of St. Francis with its English TITLE: Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted.

The original shrine in Hungary has also opened again and recently revived its traditional celebration of Pentecost, drawing a half-million pilgrims.

Joseph Pronechen