- Martyrs of Pratulin
Podlasie is an area in modern eastern Poland that, in the 18th-century, was governed by the Russian Empire. Russian sovereigns sought to bring all Eastern-rite Catholics into the Orthodox Church. Catherine II suppressed the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine in 1784. Nicholas I did the same in Belarus and Lithuania in 1839. Alexander II did the same in the Byzantine-rite Eparchy of Chelm in 1874, and officially suppressed the Eparchy in 1875. The bishop and the priests who refused to join the Orthodox Church were deported to Siberia or imprisoned. The laity, left on their own, had to defend their Church, their liturgy, and their union with Rome.
On 24 January 1874 soldiers entered the village of Pratulin to transfer the parish to Orthodox control. Many of the faithful gathered to defend their parish and church. The soldiers tried to disperse the people, but failed. Their commander tried to bribe the parishioners to abandon Rome, but failed. He threaten them with assorted punishments, but this failed to move them. Deciding that a show of force was needed, the commander ordered his troops to fire on the unarmed, hymn-singing laymen. Thirteen of the faithful died, most married men with families, ordinary men with great faith.
We know almost nothing about their lives outside of this incident. Their families were not allowed to honour them or participate in the funerals, and the authorities hoped they would be forgotten. They were
- shot on 14 January 1874 by Russian soldiers in Podlasie, Poland
- buried nearby without rites by those soldiers
“The tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another and stoned another.” (Matthew 21:35)
Was this not the lot that befell Wincenty Lewoniuk and his companions, the martyrs of Podlasie? As faithful “servants” of the Lord, they trusted in his grace and gave witness of their belonging to the Catholic Church in fidelity to their Eastern tradition. They did so with full awareness and did not hesitate to offer their lives as a confirmation of their loyalty to Christ.
Not sparing themselves, the martyrs of Pratulin defended not only the parish church in front of which they were killed, but the Church that Christ entrusted to the Apostle Peter, the Church which they felt a part of, like living stones. They shed their blood in union with the Son of God, cast out of the vineyard and killed (cf. Mt 21:39) for man’s salvation and reconciliation with God. By their example and intercession, Wincenty Lewonink and his 12 companions, who today are raised to the honours of the altar, invite us all to advance courageously on the way to the full unity of the entire family of Christ’s disciples, in the spirit of the ecumenical directives of the Second Vatican Council.
– from the homily of Pope John Paul II during the beatification recognition of the Martyrs of Podlasie
- “Martyrs of Podlasie“. CatholicSaints.Info. 8 April 2015. Web. 14 February 2016. <>