Bartolomej Urbanec (1937)

Photo: Mons. ThDr. Bartolomej Urbanec

Biography:

“Every unique moment, as it is divine, is ordinary. And every ordinary moment, as it is divine, is unique.”

Mons. ThDr. Bartolomej Urbanec was born on August 17, 1937, in a small village of Lipovce near Prešov as one of six children. He grew up in a lively faith in God; his parents guided him to pray and to live his life in a Christian way. He gained the primary education in his native village. He left for the town of Prešov to study the secondary school, where he also arrived at the decision to become a priest. After the school leaving examination in 1956, he enrolled at the seminary; however, he wasn’t accepted due to the lack of positions. With an aim to dodge the compulsory military service, he enrolled for the further education at the secondary agricultural school in Nové Mesto nad Váhom, where he spent only one year. In 1957 he finally managed to get to the seminary in Bratislava. After finishing the studies, he was ordained a priest on July 1, 1962 in Bratislava. In the same year he became a chaplain in Trebišov; however, he had to leave that place only a year later and enlist. After finishing the military service, he was sent to Michalovce. There he became well-known for his fight for preserving religious education at schools and for his successful work with youth, which he also continued after being moved to Košice. As a priest he worked with young people, organised youth and very popular guitar masses and various gatherings. In the year 1971 he was transferred again and he got to the village of Cejkov near Trebišov. His activities and influence on young people didn’t conform to concepts of the back then regime, so the followers of the regime tried hard to push him out of the public activities. Consequently, in 1972 he was divested of the approval to work in public and thus he was forced to give up his priestly occupation. In the following period he worked in manufacturing. However, he proceeded with the pastoral work and participated in secret meetings with the faithful. He also got involved in the activities of the underground church, which, according to his own words, gradually receded from the principles of the official church, so then he decided to leave it. At last, he returned back to his home village of Lipovce, where he worked as an auxiliary stoker. In 1980 he managed to get back to the official pastoral work, he successively worked it the parish in Stropkov, in Bardejov, and in Senné. After the revolution he engaged in the education of the priests to be in the seminary in Spišská Kapitula. From 1995 he was a priest in Humenné and since 2004 he has worked in the parish in Košice. The life of Mons. Urbanec is described in the book entitled Krásny život a mladosť (Amazing Life and Youth) and the collection of his preaches from the totalitarian period, specifically from the years 1968 – 1970, was published under the name Pri prameni (At Stream).

Faith in Heart

Faith in Heart (data format Flash Video)

“Then, the God was as self-evident as what I could see, as a nature, as a fact that we breathe. It was what our parents tried to instil to our hearts, so I often cast my mind back and think of them and their questions, which they used to ask us even before we started to attend a school. Who created you? Why did he create you? It remained in my soul. And if I compare what I have experienced so far, I mean fifty years of priestly service and seventy-five years of life, I know I have never heard a bigger wisdom, neither at the university, than the one which actually was the answer for those questions that the God really exists. He is the creator of everything here and the meaning of our life is to know, love, and serve him. Moreover, the logic in this answer is great. At first we have to know him, only then we could admire, love, and serve him. It also is my great desire and I often remind the parents now that I am really thankful for that. And I am sure I don’t speak just for myself but also for many of my contemporaries when I say we really thank to our parents for teaching us the biggest wisdom of life and, of course, for not only speaking about it, but also for living according to their own words. I still have a picture of my parents praying regularly.”

The First Changes

The First Changes (data format Flash Video)

“So I started to attend the school here in Lipovice and I remember very well that we used to pray at the beginning as well as at the end of the lessons. Religious education was a commonplace. And then, the change came and it also remained in my mind. You know, everything revolved around the faith, around the religion back then. There was a cross hanging on the wall when the year 1948 came. I recall it very well when we were ordered to take the cross down. And we stopped praying at the beginning of the lessons. We sang the work song instead and at the end we had to sing the Internationale. Those were the great changes I experienced when I was a child. And then, I don’t remember that, I only know the cross suddenly disappeared. I don’t know who took it down. You know, our teachers were raised in faith as well, so it was hard for them to meet the requirement and take the cross down. However, one day, I know, the cross wasn’t at its place anymore.”

Faith and Science…

Faith and Science… (data format Flash Video)

“I was fortunate that I used to go to confession every month, I mean on the first Friday in month and there were very adroit priests such as Janko Hudák or Dranga. At the confession I confided to them with what I had to face at that time. I told them about the professors who said that there was no need to believe, that the faith was an anachronism, obscurantism. Only there I got the explanation and encouragement. They even recommended me this book, Viera veľkých vedcov (The Faith of the Great Scientists), which helped me a lot. Then, it slowly dawned on me that what was said against the God, against the faith, was not the truth; it was only a kind of propaganda. It made me doubt that the science and faith were impossible to combine as I came to know that the great scientists such as Max Plank, Isaac Newton, and Pasteur were the faithful. They had prayed rosary every day and attended the masses. These great scientists had had no problem with the faith and then, such things were going on. However, I took the right attitude to this issue and I already knew it wasn’t true. It was something false. It was a kind of propaganda, which wasn’t good, and it actually strengthened my faith. And there I could see what was well-known from the history. I found something positive on that persecution and it was that the faith became more personal, I mean it wasn’t so habitual just in the sense that the parents led us that way as we were raised in faith, but then we were forced to think about it, search for it, and came to a personal conviction of what the truth was.”

“We already knew where the truth lay...”

“We already knew where the truth lay...” (data format Flash Video)

“Well, we were such a special class in seminary as we were fifteen at the beginning and we all managed to finish the school. None of the classes managed to do the same, neither before us, nor after us. Either the student himself gave it up, or was dismissed. Everybody was monitored in the seminary. The advantage of our class was that we stack together as it sometimes happens at school, the selected ones. At that time the State Security also tried to find the collaborators among priests and those who enrolled at the seminary. It was a commonplace that if somebody wasn’t accepted for the study, they came and said, ‘You know what? We will help you. You will be accepted into the seminary, but you know, there are various enemies of socialism, so you will notify us.’ They had sophisticated tactics. They didn’t say that people would become rats, that they would betray their own beliefs and conscience. They only said, ‘You know, you also care about socialism and its flourishing, so you will help us.’ And sometimes it happened that people signed. Then, when they caught somebody, they also called him for interrogation, for a talk and they often visited him. As he signed, he had to say something. And the young ones, you know, usually snitched, they told what we were talking about in the class. Moreover, they monitored everything. Fortunately, we were such a unique class, we kept together, there was nobody to betray us in our class, so nothing came to the open, even though we were used to speaking with complete frankness.”

Beginnings of the Youth Masses

Beginnings of the Youth Masses (data format Flash Video)

“There were such personal contacts at the gatherings, which were held in secret under the veil of somebody’s birthday and the like. We managed to create the personal contacts with the young people and then, when the year 1968 came, when it started to loosen, I noticed the events happening in Bratislava. I got on the train and participated in one of the gatherings. It was exactly when the bishop Korec was released from prison. And my experience with the youth was amazing. It was the first time I witnessed such dynamics and enthusiasm, so I said myself that I had to pass it on to the youth in Košice, as it already worked in Bratislava. I recorded everything on a tape and when I had a sermon in the cathedral I took my tape recorder to the pulpit and I played the words of the bishop Korec, who had been in prison and then he was released. And that enthusiasm started to spread here in Košice, and the young people said, ‘Ok, look, if it is spreading so quickly, let’s do the youth mass. Agreed and let’s do it on May 1.’ It was enough. They wrote a sort of small and simple posters on the door. When we thought about where to place it, we decided that Krista Kráľa (Church of Christ the King) on Moyzesová Street would be the best. We arrange it for May 1, 1968, at 6 p.m. Well, a lot of young people came to the church. It was overcrowded. We prepared everything in cooperation with young people we had already known. They sang and some of them played the guitar. Tóno Konečný was only a student back then, he was a musician, and he still lectures on music. The holy mass came out very well; it was really enthusiastic and cheerful. It was unbelievable, you know, considering what we had experienced, I mean the oppression, and suddenly such enthusiasm appeared, it seemed that under that pressure from the outside so much dynamics had accumulated in society that when the scope for a change arouse it flooded the whole city of Košice.”

Warning

Warning (data format Flash Video)

“I worked at the cooperative and when it was transferred into the state ownership, I moved to Salvator Company in Lipovce. I worked as an auxiliary stoker and certain young member of the State Security used to visit me, but I saw his attitude was slightly different. You know, I saw he didn’t spoke to me from the position of power. He even told me what I still remember very well. He said, ‘Mr. Urbanec, be careful about what you say. For instance, when you are among priests, you probably say your opinion openly and with the best intention, but we usually come to know it. Watch what you say.’”

“You can say you don’t remember...”

“You can say you don’t remember...” (data format Flash Video)

“Later, it was much better for us. You know the activists from Bratislava such as Krčméry, Jukl, and Mikloško, who had already had certain experiences from prison as they were persecuted, came. And they gave us instructions about how to behave, which we considered to be something extraordinary. They taught us, ‘Look, if they summon you, you have a right to ask them whether you are an accused or a witness. If you are the witness, you have to be frank, because otherwise, if you lie deliberately, you commit a criminal deed. But if you are the accused, lie, because you can lie in anything you want. But you have to keep in mind one thing. If you are the witness, you can forget about everything. You don’t have to remember…’ It was great. I remember one interrogation, they called me to Michalovce. Every time I go past, it always comes to my mind. And they were really upset, because it wasn’t easy to interrogate us since we were prepared for their questions. They wanted to know various things form us. They usually asked about certain people. Who we were meeting, who told us this or that and the like. If I was the witness I said, ‘I don’t know, I can’t recall.’ And they responded, ‘Mr. Urbanec, you are an intelligent person and you don’t remember?’ No, I don’t.’ But I have to say that they change their posture a bit, because they didn’t beat us and I knew they had been drastic before. The investigations then took other direction.”

The story and videoclips of this witness were put together and published thanks to the financial support of EU within the programme Europe for Citizens – Active European Remembrance.

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