b Local Relative of Slovakian Martyr Attends Beatification -b

Marge Van Lierde, her husband and two children, sat in the eighth row as Pope John Paul II declared Van Lierde?s aunt, Sister Zdenka Cecilia Schelingova, the first Slovakian woman to be beatified. Blessed Holy Cross Sister Zdenka was a 20th century martyr. She died as a result of ill treatment in prison after being convicted of treason by the Communist government following the escape of a Catholic priest from a prison hospital. Van Lierde, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Vienna, traveled with her family to Bratislava, Slovakia, for the beatification. There, they met with 50 family members from the U.S., Canada and Slovakia. Although the new part of Bratislava is not very beautiful with its square, gray, concrete buildings, the time she spent in Slovakia was "absolutely beautiful. "Certainly it?s a once in a lifetime experience not everyone gets to have," said Van Lierde. "It was transforming." Images of Sister Zdenka and Bishop Vasyl Hopko of Presov, also beatified during the pope?s visit, were hung throughout the town "like advertisements for rock concerts," Van Lierde said. "It?s like a dream," she said of the beatification ceremony. "You don?t think you?re ever going to see that." Van Lierde was particularly touched by the Holy Father?s words to the Slovakian people. "He has such an enormous affection for the people," she said. "He was like a shepherd, urging people to stay on the right path." Two children dressed in traditional Slovakian costume carried a bowl of soil to the pope as a gift. The soil was a mixture from different places in Sister Zdenka?s home: her father?s grave, her parent?s grave, the church, the ancestral home and the crossroads of the village. Following the beatification, Van Lierde and her family shared a banquet with over 600 Sisters of the Holy Cross from about a dozen different countries. "The nuns were just so sweet," Van Lierde said. "I can see why my aunt had been drawn to them. They were lovely people." On the following day, they offered a Mass of thanksgiving in a small church where part of her aunt?s remains are buried. A larger than life statue of Sister Zdenka was in the church along with a relic. Although Van Lierde never met her aunt Cecilia, she remembers her family talking about her. Sister Zdenka was born on Dec. 24, 1916, in Kriva, Orava County, then part of the Kingdom of Hungary, now the Slovak Republic. Van Lierde?s father came to the United States when Sister Zdenka was about 3 years old. Sister Zdenka was the 10th of 11 children. Because the family was so large, and they were rather poor, Van Lierde?s father took responsibility for paying for the education of his youngest sister, Cecilia. The family was proud of her for entering the religious life. At 15 she joined the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross. She professed her first vows in 1937 and received the name, Zdenka. She worked in a hospital in Bratislava in the radiology department. "Dedicating herself to serve the sick with a joyful spirit, exemplary generosity, expert professionalism, and much love, she became a model of a religious sister, as well as that of a nurse," said Van Lierde. Following political changes in the country in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Communist party openly persecuted the Catholic Church. Sister Zdenka decided to suffer for God rather than betray him. In 1952, she helped a priest escape prison, and planned to help six others, but the second attempt failed. She was arrested in February, and convicted in June of high treason and sentenced to 12 years in prison. She became terminally ill in prison, and because they did not want her to die in prison and be seen as a martyr, she was released in April 1955. She died in Trnava on July 31, 1955, at the age of 38. People who knew Sister Zdenka describe her as always smiling, with bright blue eyes. While in Bratislava, Van Lierde also met an 86-year-old woman who had helped Sister Zdenka while she was sick in prison. Sister Zdenka told her experiences to this woman. When she was close to death, Sister Zdenka whispered, "Forgiveness is the greatest thing in life." Immediately following her death, the Slovak people considered her a martyr. "This country was so hungry," said Van Lierde. "They needed this. They needed someone to relate to." Anton Habovstiak published a book on the life of Sister Zdenka Schelingova in 1994. The book helped spread the story of Sister Zdenka and increase her cause for sainthood. In 2000, the cause for her beatification was opened, and July 7, 2003, she was declared a martyr. "We are still in awe that this actually happened in our lifetime," said Van Lierde. "It was really a pilgrimage for me to go there." Blessed Sister Zdenka Schelingova?s feast day falls on July 31, a day that will be celebrated by Marge Van Lierde, and all Slovaks. "I want to see a miracle," said Van Lierde. "I want to go back."

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