She stood alone. The only others present were her accusers.

A young woman faced question after question while trying to make sense of the growing hostility around her.

This cross-examination was to be the final drama in a life as innocent as it had been faithful; it was played out in a state interrogation room far from her home and those who loved her.

One wonders: Did she realize that this was her Calvary?

Late one night, while leafing through a volume on Soviet Communism’s persecution of the Church, I came across the name Janina Jandulska. In the volume, her life story merited a mere paragraph. On reading it, however, I closed the book and, for some time, gazed into the distance as the night descended.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution the Ukraine became an integral part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. At the Soviet Union’s head were Stalin and the Communist authorities who had seized power in the former Russian Empire. The Communist rulers then waged a war of persecution against the Christians living within its boundaries.

In 1937 Janina Jandulska was a 30-year-old invalid who lived with her mother in the Ukrainian village of Wierzboviec. Some in the village had started a Living Rosary group. As seminaries were closed and priests were arrested during the official crack down on anyone professing a religion, lay groups such as the Living Rosary played an increasingly key role in teaching catechism to the young, as well as in providing spiritual and moral support to Catholics in this progressively hostile environment. Traditionally, in any Living Rosary group the 15 decades of the Rosary were divided among 15 associates, each of whom had to mediate daily on one designated decade. Despite the obvious risks involved, when asked to host one such Living Rosary meeting in her home, Janina readily agreed.

A local Communist official was alerted to this gathering and where it was meeting. Immediately, he informed the state officials. Shortly afterward, police arrived at the Jandulsak home, and Janina was led away, her mother knew not where.

Some time later, Janina’s mother was informed that her daughter was dead. She had died at the nearby Kamenets Prison. The cause of death was stated as ‘liver infection.’ This was a lie.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise. The Soviet Union had been built on a combination of brutality and lies: God did not exist; Man was self-sufficient; there was no Heaven, just a Workers’ Paradise as millions perished through starvation or in death camps, known as Gulags, for the crime of daring to think differently.

The transcript of what Janina endured at the hands of the Soviet authorities is a testament to when an altogether different reality encounters such lies; and, as it does so, the age-old question is posed once more: What is Truth?

Before the local Soviet prosecutor, there stood a young peasant woman accused of leading a subversive organization.

‘Are you head of the Rosary?’

‘Yes, I am the head of the Living Rosary. But it isn’t an organization – we simply pray to God.’

‘How many of you are there?’

‘Fifteen.’

‘Fifteen! And you say it isn’t an organization. Who recruited you, and who sends you literature?’

The prosecutor did not accept Janina’s reply that the Living Rosary simply met to pray to God; and, in any event, he reminded her:

‘But there is no God!’

‘For you there is no God, but for us God exists.’

The prosecutor looked at this poor disabled woman in front of him, and, perhaps with glee pointed out: ‘But you are here now (so) who will replace you?’

‘Someone who believes in God.’

These are the last recorded words of Janina Jandulska. The Soviet prosecutor and the whole materialistic edifice that he defended had no answer when confronted with such simple truth.

Thereafter, what is recorded is that Janina was taken and dispatched from this life with a bullet to the head.

Today, the Soviet Union is no more, and, in the village of Wierzboviec, there stands a humble Catholic church. Those who believe come there to worship a God long ago declared dead by those who are themselves now forgotten. On its wall there hangs a picture. It is of Janina. In the faded photograph she appears a young woman dressed in the fashion of the 1930s. Looking closely at the photograph, she seems just an ordinary young woman, one with hopes, and dreams of love and a family. Then one remembers that she sacrificed these dreams for something else, something more. And now, dressed in the robes of eternity, she wears a crown.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

In the distance a clock chimed, waking me from my reverie. By now, the midnight hour had come, and with it October. Conscious of the devotion traditionally associated with that month, and conscious too, of the all too brief paragraph I had just read, I reached for my rosary.

 

(Source: The God of the Gulag: Volume One: Martyrs in an Age of Revolution by Jonathan Luxmoore [Gracewing])