The 27th annual Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek Day Mass was concelebrated in October at St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church by nine priests, including three Byzantine Catholic Rite clerics.
For the first time in St. Casimir’s during the annual Mass, a Panachida service – a service to remember the deceased in Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches – was conducted at the conclusion of Mass, for Fr. Ciszek, a Shenandoah native whose cause for canonization is under investigation in the Catholic Church. Father Ciszek, baptized a Roman Catholic, served his priesthood in the Byzantine Rite.
The Panachida service was celebrated by the Jesuit Father Thomas Sable, co-postulator for the cause of canonization of Father Ciszek; Monsignor Nicholas I. Pukak, pastor of St. Mary Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church, Freeland, the oldest Ruthenian Byzantine church in America; and Monsignor John S. Mraz, guest homilist and pastor of St. Ann Roman Catholic Church, Emmaus, and the director of the Allentown Diocese Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue.
During his homily, Mraz said that he was honored to be the homilist, not for being an expert on Father Ciszek, but for his devotion to him and the cause for canonization.
“While I was in the seminary in the early 1970s, I learned about the heroic virtue and the saintly life of a native of Shenandoah, Father Walter Ciszek, who suffered for decades in the Stalinist gulags in Soviet Russia, and the strange spy swap that returned him to his family in Pennsylvania and the Society of Jesus,” he said.
“Once Father Walter was able to surrender his life to his vocation and his future in Christ, his stubbornness became determination in the face of the communist oppression,” said Mraz. “His pride became courage in the midst of religious oppression. His self-sufficiency became reliance upon Christ’s grace and the decades-long isolation from family, friends and the religious community.”
Father Ciszek was born Nov. 4, 1904, in Shenandoah and was a parishioner of St. Casimir’s, where he was baptized and attended the parochial school. He was ordained in 1937 as the first American Jesuit in the Byzantine Catholic Rite. He secretly entered the Soviet Union in 1939 as a missionary priest and was arrested in 1941 as a Vatican spy. After 23 years as a prisoner in the Soviet Union, he was released and returned to the United States. He died Dec. 8, 1984. His cause for canonization began in the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic and was later transferred to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown. His cause is currently being reviewed at the Vatican.