ANTWERP, BELGIUM 2012, this was a beautiful sight to see!

“The Cathedral of Our Lady is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Antwerp, Belgium. Today’s see of the Diocese of Antwerp started in 1352 and, although the first stage of construction was ended in 1521, has never been completed”

*This IS my photo, and im so happy how it turned out with the edit 🔥🔥*

“What we should be most diligent about, I think, is this. First, we must continually ask God in our prayers to keep us in His hand, and bear constantly in mind that, if He leaves us, we shall at once be down in the depths , as indeed we shall… But most of all we must walk with special care and attention, and watch what progress we make in the virtues, and discover if, in any way, we are either improving or going back, especially in our love for each other and in our desire to be thought least of, and in ordinary things; for if we look to this, and beg the Lord to give us light, we shall at once discern whether we have gained or lost.”
– St. Teresa of Avila

“Oh, my sisters, how little one should think about resting, and how little one should care about honours, and how far one ought to be from wishing to be esteemed in the very least if the Lord makes His special abode in the soul. For if the soul is much with Him, as it is right it should be, it will very seldom think of itself: its whole thought will be concentrated upon finding ways to please Him and upon showing Him how it loves. This, my daughters, is the aim of prayer: this is the purpose of the Spiritual Marriage, of which are born good works and good works alone.”
– Teresa of Avila

Blessed among Men and Angels

Titus Zeman is probably an unheard of name. He was a Salesian priest who lived and died in Slovakia less than 70 years ago. Being a Salesian, I had never heard of him until recently. I participated in a competition organized by the Congregation which required us to prepare a powerpoint presentation of the Salesian vocation with reference to the lives of Fr Titus Zeman and Br Istvan Sandor. As I researched in preparation for this presentation I was awestruck by the heroic life of Fr Titus Zeman. I was at once inspired to share his story of courage and valour.

Titus was born on 4th January, 1915 to Jan Zeman and Agnese Grebeciova in Slovakia. He was the first of ten children. The socio-political climate at the time wasn’t very conducive for the integral upbringing of a child nevertheless the Zeman’s inculcated in their children the values of the Christian faith which they proudly professed.

At the age of 10, Titus dreamed of becoming a priest and over time his desire only grew stronger. He was quite sickly and finally had a very serious illness. Upon miraculously recovering he promised Our Lady “to be her son forever”. No one could change his mind, not even Fr Bokor who was responsible for encouraging him to go ahead in the Salesian way of life. The Zeman’s had to work really hard to make ends meet and Fr Bokor advised them that little Titus was too young to leave home and join the Salesians. He tried putting Titus off by telling him that he wouldn’t have him mummy around to care for him and to console him if he wanted to cry. Titus responded with determination, “Why do you say I won’t have my mother near me? That’s right that I won’t have my earthly mother near me but I will have Mary Help of Christians, to whom I promised that I would come to her when I was cured. She will take care of me and protect me. I will not cry because here I’ll have my heavenly mother.”

In the face of such wholehearted and innocent surrender, Fr Bokor had no option but to relent and give in to Titus’ request. He humourously said, “This boy won’t change his mind. He has a vocation. It is the will of the Lord, and there’s no point in struggling against it!” Titus joined the Salesian house of Sastin to complete his education and later went on to join the Salesians. He made his first vows as a Salesian on 6th August, 1932 and was ordained in 1940 in Turin. After his ordination, he returned to his hometown and served as Chaplain and catechist.

In April 1950 the communist Government imposed strict regulations against religious orders within the country and began sending their members to concentration camps. In Slovakia this was called “The Night of the Barbarians”. Divine Providence preserved Fr Titus from getting imprisoned. A young Salesian, Fr Ernest Macak harboured the idea of clandestinely transporting young Salesians across the border into Italy in order to complete their theological studies and get ordained. He collaborated with Fr Titus, who jumped at the opportunity to help young Salesians reach the altar. Along with some locals they began preparing a secret underground passage through the border between Slovakia and Austria. Fr Titus accompanied two batches of young men in this dangerous and life-threatening venture across the border and into a foreign land. The Major Superiors in Italy were greatly impressed by Fr Titus’ zeal and courage. He was convinced that those who were studying in Turin would return to Slovakia as priests or go as missionaries around the world.

On the third expedition, Fr Titus and the group were caught since they couldn’t cover enough ground before the sun came up. Anxiety, fear and unwillingness to take risks all factored in to break the cohesiveness of the group and to slow them down. At the border, the guards arrested sixteen of the twenty-two offenders. The one’s arrested were thoroughly and even roughly interrogated and abused. Fr Titus was separated from the others and interrogated several times, even losing a few teeth in the bargain. Some began to hallucinate on account of the head trauma they incurred during the interrogations. When Fr Titus sized up the situation and saw his confreres being beaten he took responsibility and pleaded that the others be spared. He was forced to sign a “confession” stating that he was an supplying sensitive information to America. He hoped that would influence the police to let the others go but he was wrong. The investigators wanted him to name witnesses and to speak against the Church. He refused and was subject to every instrument of torture at their disposal. Five prisoners were forced to admit that Fr Titus was appointed as a “Vatican Spy” and who supplied information to America.

Fr Titus and the others were put under trial. He was described as an inveterate enemy of the state, a spy of the Vatican and of the Americans, a traitor of the Fatherland who had illegally helped other traitors and enemies of the State to escape from the republic. He was sentenced to death. An appeal however was filed against the court’s decision and the decision was revised to 25 years of imprisonment. All the others too were condemned to prison. In all he spent 13 long years in prison and suffered unimaginable torture. While he was there he prepared a rosary out of bread crumbs. It had 58 beads signifying the number of times he was brutally tortured. Some of the tortures he revealed are stomach-churning and so I don’t intend to mention them here. To be honest they really raised the hair on my hands and caused me to cringe.

After serving half his sentence, the police considered setting him free on account of his exemplary behaviour. They made him sign a statement never to speak of what had happened to him in prison. He was released for a trial period of 7 years. Upon release he went to live with his brother and sought some employment. He would spend his free time meeting people and visiting relatives, past pupils and even Salesian confreres. He suffered because he was not able to exercise his priestly duties publicly as a Salesian. Nevertheless, he devoted himself to spending time with the children, taking them on pilgrimages to the Marian shrines of Sastin and Marianka.

In 1967, the political scene began to change and he was slowly allowed to celebrate mass. A few months later he was granted permission to hear confessions. He would be so impatient that he would spring up from the breakfast table to run to the confessional because he said, he didn’t want to keep people waiting. He would often say, “It is I who must wait for the penitent and not the penitent wait for me.” As the days passed he began to rebuild his personality from the ashes of prison life. Just when things seem to be going well, Czechoslovakia was suddenly occupied once more under the Warsaw pact. He worried about going back to prison. He intensified his prayer as well as his pastoral work.

On January 7, 1969, Fr Titus suddenly felt a sensation of pain near his heart and passed away the following day. He was buried alongside his parents in his native parish. Pope Benedict XVI declared him a Servant of God in 2010 and Pope Francis beatified him on 30th September, 2017. Fr Titus truly was a flaming torch shedding the light of God’s presence and love during the dark years under the Iron Curtain. Despite the atrocities he faced he mustered enough courage to face his aggressors without hatred in his heart. He really is a model of bravery and Christian virtue, like a diamond in the muck he never lost his sheen but rather shone all the brighter despite every attempt to shatter him. He stands out for me as a hero – a model Salesian. He suffered unjustly simply because he valued Salesian life and the priesthood. He was ready to face the consequences so long as some day the Church of Slovakia would have good and holy priests. His life is an ode to religious consecration and his death is a challenge to live the faith authentically and courageously. Blessed Titus Zeman pray for us, may we have half the courage to live our Christian life despite the indifference and condescension of our societies.