(This is an article that was published in the Slovak Catholic Federation 2006 Dobrý Pastier. It is based on a speech given by Sister M. Thomas More Dzurnak, SS.C.M at the celebration of the centennial of the Slovak Catholic Sokol, by Group 12 in Reading, Pennsylvania.)
Remembering the immigrants
of one hundred years ago makes me think of the story of Michael Kupčik.
When he reached Ellis Island some time in the 1890s after the journey from
Slovakia, unfortunately some dyslexic official sent him to Connellsville,
Pennsylvania, rather than to his relatives in Collinsville, Connecticut. In
Connellsville, he made a reputation for himself with his fists, until the Irish
pastor got through to him: “Mike, you’re wasting your brain. I’ll teach
you English.” Mike learned English, moved to Connecticut, married and had a
family. He was one of my four Slovak immigrant grandparents.
My Slovak ancestry is only
one of the reasons why I care about the meaning of the mission of Saints Cyril
and Methodius to the Slavs, and about Slovak Catholics in the Slovak Catholic
Sokol today, in terms of our Slovak and religious heritage. My life as a Sister
of Saints Cyril and Methodius and my participation in Slovak Catholic
organizations add to my interest.
Pope John Paul II wrote
that one of the greatest events in the history of evangelization was certainly
the mission of the two brothers from Thessalonica, Saint Cyril and Saint
Methodius, to the Slavs. They introduced the Gospel and at the same time laid
the foundations of Slavic culture. The late pope noted that both were active on
behalf of the unity of the Eastern and Western Church even though this unity had
already begun to crumble.
When I began my own
reflection process on this topic, I noticed five interrelated themes in the
lives of Saints Cyril and Methodius, which connect to three Sokol ideals. In the
area of religion, it is personal conversion, and following from that,
faithfulness to one’s vocation; in the area of health, valuing
education and loving wisdom; in the area of ethnic pride, being so happy
with our own heritage that we can support people of other cultures, even to the
point of self-sacrifice, because we understand what it is to be proud of our
identity. Then Hurricane Katrina struck, and all of these themes and ideals took
on an additional layer of meaning.
(The article says “Not to lose anyone who might not know the lives of Cyril and Methodius really well, nor to bore those who know their biographies better than I do, I present the SSCM Condensed Version” To read a version of the lives of SS Cyril and Methodius, click here.)
Both Methodius and Cyril left successful careers to follow a calling to the monastic life. Later they left the monastery to go to God’s people when they discerned God’s voice in the calls from the emperor, from Rastislav, and from the pope. Through Scripture and liturgy in the people’s own language and a native clergy, they called the people to love of God and love of neighbor.
In her study of Saints
Cyril and Methodius, Sister Virginia Dewan, SS.C.M wrote, “Even though both
followed a path they would not have chosen for themselves, they did it with
enthusiasm, and put all they had into the work God gave them to do.”
Cyril’s boyhood dream of
selecting Sophia as his bride strongly symbolizes his love of wisdom. Students
themselves, both men put their knowledge to work at the service of those in
need. In the training of priests, they passed on their knowledge, in the
creation of an alphabet; they opened the way for a body of literature to
Why do I connect this value
with the Sokol promotion of health? I do so because true education and wisdom
relate to mental and spiritual health, because complete education includes
physical training, and because the Scriptural ideal of wisdom covers every
aspect of life: mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional. In short, the aim is
if for a sound mind in a sound body. Even before Hurricane Katrina, both the
National Governors’ Association and the Catholic Health Association had
already decided to focus for the coming year on wellness, prevention, and the
need to live healthier, more active lives. Both organizations can use all
possible support and cooperation to make their programs successful. Now the
people in the areas devastated by the hurricane have great needs for all kinds
of help in caring for the sick and the aged, preventing illness, and providing
for mental health.
As for supporting people of
other cultures to the point of sacrificing one’s own personal preferences,
this is our greatest challenge because it calls us to be the most
counter-cultural. Much of the secular media steadily tries to persuade us that
today’s immigrants are a great danger to this nation of immigrants.
In an examination of
conscience based on the lives of Cyril and Methodius, Sister Virginia Dewan
wrote: “Saints Cyril and Methodius were willing to immerse themselves into a
different culture and become one with the people. They didn’t try to force a
foreign way of life on them, but adapted the life enhancing elements of their
background to the way of life the Slavs were used to. ”Cyril and Methodius
were motivated by a great love and respect for each other’s uniqueness.
They went along with the wishes of others: their parents, civil authorities, the
Holy Father, God, graciously and uncomplainingly, in a spirit of prayer and
humble obedience. Their attitude remained unshaken, even when they were being
Cyril and Methodius serve
as great examples and model for us how to welcome one another. They spent their
entire lives serving those who had a different way of life. They created a
written language and a literature in which all could grow in faith together.
They met the people where they were, living with and among them, learning from
them as they taught. They respected the cultural differences they encountered,
embraced the richness, and strove to journey with the people to a closer and
more personal relationship with God, a love that spilled over into their
relations with others.
Whether we are assisting
disaster refugees or seeking justice for today’s immigrants, Cyril and
Methodius give us a wonderful pattern to follow.
Personal conversion and
following our vocations require courage. Through education we can foster this
wisdom in others. Let us have respect for ourselves. The Sokol physical fitness
programs provide opportunities for developing respect for self and for others.
The greater respect we have for ourselves, the more respectful we can be toward
others, even if they are very different from us.
Now, in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina, those who have these great health needs are people who have
their own ethnic pride, just as we do. Many opportunities to help them are being
set out before us everywhere we turn. The collection, which was taken up at this
Sokol gathering, is a way to assist directly through this organization.
There is another proposal,
concerning today’s immigrants, for us to reflect on. It is a need which became
known just before the Hurricane Katrina disaster claimed our attention. I
believe it is in line with Sokol ideals of religion, health, and ethnic pride,
an action which involves personal conversion, education and the wisdom of
embracing all God’s people. It has to do with immigration policy reform, an
issue of particular concern to the United States and the Mexican bishops. The
principles, which these bishops put together for a just immigration reform
proposal, include: a legalization program for the undocumented,
a temporary worker program
with appropriate protections, reform of the family preference system to reduce
waiting time for families to be reunited, and restoration of due process
protections for immigrants.
There is now a bill in the
U.S. Senate and another in the House, which creates a path to citizenship for
undocumented workers who are here now; a temporary worker program for future
workers; and changes in the family preference system to reduce the backlogs in
The U.S. Catholic
Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services asks us to show support for the Secure
America and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 by contacting our Senators and
Representatives as soon as possible, asking them to cosponsor and support the
legislation. More information is available on www.educationforjustice.org,
a website easy enough to remember.
While I was considering
this last issue, I consulted one of our sisters who is of Hispanic heritage,
Sister Rosa Maria. She told me: “Part of why I love Cyril and Methodius so
much is the fact that they have exemplified for me what it means to be
respectful of all people and because they model how different cultures can be
Now I ask you to ask
yourself: “What do I, a twenty-first century Catholic of Slovak heritage, love
most about Saints Cyril and Methodius?” When you identify that quality of
theirs which touches your heart most deeply, look at how it relates to the signs
of the times. Then you will be able to choose the particular way that you will
live out our heritage of faith and culture, after the ninth-century example of
Saints Cyril and Methodius.