The Ongoing War Between Catholicism and Communism (Guest: Kristen Theriault)

Since its inception in the 19th century, Communism has always been at war with the Catholic Church. We’ll discuss at why that is, and look to some heroic examples of Catholics who resisted the atheistic system.

PUBLISHED ON

January 26, 2024

Crisis Point
Crisis Point
The Ongoing War Between Catholicism and Communism (Guest: Kristen Theriault)
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Guest

Kristen Theriault has degrees in history and Russian area studies, and is the author of “When the Sickle Swings: Stories of Catholics Who Survived Communist Oppression.” She is the editor of Catholic Exchange.

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Transcript

Eric Sammons:

Since its inception in the 19th century, communism has always been at war with the Catholic Church. We’ll discuss why that is, and also look to some heroic examples of Catholics who resisted the atheistic system. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your Host and Editor-in-Chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, I just want to encourage people to smash that like button, to subscribe to the channel, let other people know about it. Also, you can follow us on social media @CrisisMag, and you can also go to our website, crisismagazine.com, sign up for our daily newsletter, you get our articles right to your inbox. Okay. Today our guest is Kristen Theriault. She is the Author of When the Sickle Swings. Which, I’m not lying, even though it says on the book Kristen Van Uden. Is it Uden, maybe?

Kristen Theriault:

Uden.

Eric Sammons:

Uden. Uden. Okay. Because she got married recently, so her last name changed. She has degrees in history and Russian area studies and, like I said, the Author of When the Sickle Swings. She’s also the Editor of Catholic Exchange. I think a lot of people probably have heard of Catholic Exchange, have been to it, it has great articles there. She’s the Editor of that, so she’s got the same job as me, just a different magazine, online magazine. So very good. Welcome to the program, Kristen.

Kristen Theriault:

Thanks so much for having me, Eric.

Eric Sammons:

So tell me a little bit about your background. I want to hear especially about the Russian area studies because my wife also had a dual major of political science and Russian studies.

Kristen Theriault:

Very nice.

Eric Sammons:

I don’t meet very many other people who have that as a major, so tell me about what got you interested in that and why you did that.

Kristen Theriault:

Well, I would’ve loved to have majored in Soviet studies if that were still available, but unfortunately they renamed it after the collapse of communism, because that is really the period that I focused on, was the horror and the aftermath of the 20th Century, and of communism’s implementation, and the survival of that period. So I really actually began this project in undergrad, in my senior year. I did an independent study where I began interviewing Catholics who had survived communism. So, this was always something that was in the back of my mind. I grew up reading Holocaust memoirs, and reading of those who survived various horrors of the 20th century.

But an angle that you don’t often hear about is how the Catholic Church was persecuted under these regimes. That’s something that’s often swept under the rug, or not focused on to such a large degree. So when I found out that communism was not only overtly atheist, but had this extraordinary anti-catholic rhetoric, not only in its propaganda but in actual policies that were implemented, this was something that I felt was a story that needed to be told. So this has been the EJ fix in my mind since then. I, in grad school, studied Russian propaganda or Soviet propaganda towards the United States, so propaganda that was brought over during, especially, the world’s fairs, that were these international festivals where countries would try to present their best face. So, it all really came together with this project.

Eric Sammons:

That’s interesting. My wife actually, she was in school, in college, when the Soviet Union fell.

Kristen Theriault:

Wow.

Eric Sammons:

It was actually while we were in college. ’89 to ’93 is when we were in college, and it was actually falling, so she got to study Russian stuff while it was happening.

Kristen Theriault:

There you go. What a time to be alive.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, exactly. It was quite interesting. So communism, unfortunately, a lot of Catholics today, including, we’ll just say, some higher-up Catholics, seem to flirt with communism as, it’s not so bad. In fact, some would even argue that it has some commonalities with Christianity. That really is not the case. But why don’t you explain some of the innate incompatibility between Catholicism and communism. Why is it not just a… There’s a number of political systems that the Catholic Church has not condemned, most of them they haven’t condemned. But this one, it has. So, what is the innate incompatibility between the two?

Kristen Theriault:

So ultimately, the innate incompatibility is that communism is a false messianic system, so it posits an earthly utopia that can be achieved through the work of men alone, taking God completely out of the equation. Of course we know, as the Tower of Babel was, this is doomed to failure. This is actually, as I go through in the book, the doctrine of the Antichrist himself.

What comes to mind is Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World, where the Antichrist is this very popular and charismatic leader who promises prosperity and entertainment for all, and really this utopian, but really dystopian, system where we’re free from want, and free from inequality, and all things that would sound, on the surface, very appealing. But you can see, ultimately, it is built on sand, and this is something that does not have actual objective cosmology at its center. Rather, it has this inverted cosmology where man is actually the creator of his own fate.

It’s important to remember that, while everyone knows of John Paul II and his strong advocacy against communism, the Catholic Church was actually opposed to it from the very beginning. So Pope Pius XI and Pius XII, in particular, spoke very strongly against communism. The Encyclical Divini Redemptoris, which was issued by Pius XI in 1937 spoke about communism, and how it had been implemented in the Soviet Union and also in Mexico at that time.

He speaks, actually, of the false messianism of this, to quote here on page 97, Pius X says, “The communism of today, more emphatically than similar movements in the past, conceals itself in a false messianic idea, a pseudo ideal of justice, of equality, and fraternity in labor, impregnates all its doctrine and activity with a deceptive mysticism which communicates a zealous and contagious enthusiasm to the multitudes entrapped by delusive promises.”

This is actually the way I approach communism in the book, is that it is not simply an economic or a political system, but really has the spiritual core at its center. So therefore, all Catholic resistance to communism, and even survival under communism, took on this element of spiritual warfare that I think is often neglected.

Eric Sammons:

I think you mentioned in your book, and I think Paul Kengor mentioned one time on the podcast, didn’t a Pope condemn communism or socialism even before Karl Marx?

Kristen Theriault:

Oh, that’s interesting. Probably. Of course, modernism and communism have very many similarities, so the ideals that were promulgated during the French Revolution, which evolved into communism and modernism in separate ways, were condemned before. So, I would have to double check on that exactly.

Eric Sammons:

I think you actually… I might have read it in another book. But I feel like there was a… Oh yeah, here we go. You said it yourself.

Kristen Theriault:

Oh, I did.

Eric Sammons:

I love it when I’m getting interviewed for a book I wrote, and that was something I wrote in there-

Kristen Theriault:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

And I forget it myself.

Kristen Theriault:

Wow, so brilliant.

Eric Sammons:

I will quote the expert, Kristen Theriault, “Communism was condemned as early as 1846 by Pope Pius IX, who later included his syllabus of heirs.” So that’s just amazing that that was before even, because Communism Manifesto was 1848, I think.

Kristen Theriault:

I think so.

Eric Sammons:

Basically, it’s the same timeframe. So the point is, this isn’t some johnny-come-lately, John Paul II just decided, “Okay, now we’re against communism.”

Kristen Theriault:

Exactly. Right. I think people have this idea that it was condemned after its fruits had been obvious, when you couldn’t deny the body count of the Holodomor anymore, or it was obvious that this was an evil system. But they saw the writing on the wall, and they could tell that this ideology could only ever bear bad fruit.

Eric Sammons:

Now the communists themselves, early on, they seemed to realize also that their great enemy was the Catholic Church. But, how are some just general ways, especially before they had power, and even when they had power… Because I know in some ways, obviously there’s… Like I said, Paul Kengor’s written about this, how they infiltrated. Obviously, in your book, you talk a lot more about the explicit oppression. What were the methodologies that different communist systems took into place to combat the church?

Kristen Theriault:

I identify about five major tactics that are used really once communism has gained power. But it’s really interesting you ask about before they’ve even come into power because, during that time, that is when the propaganda campaigns really had the most effectiveness. In the book, I go into the story of Father Josef Toufar, who was a priest in Czechoslovakia. In 1949, this was right after the communists had seized power, but before the machine had really started humming along, the communist state targeted him.

He was actually, I believe, martyred in this very intense way where this small town where he was a priest, called Číhošť, had what the parishioners believed to have been a miracle on Christmas day, which was a Eucharistic miracle in the sense that, when he was speaking of the real presence, the crucifix behind the altar actually swung all the way to the left, all the way to the right, and then came to rest, bowing down in the middle, so looking like a benediction or a blessing upon the people.

He thought nothing of it really, just prayed about it. Then the very next day, it happened again. So at this point, of course, something’s going on, he has to elevate this to the bishop for further investigation. The secret police of Czechoslovakia catch wind of this, at this point, and they cannot have this rumor getting out because, of course, it would speak to the power of God, and that was just completely forbidden. So they actually hauled Father Toufar into their offices and tried to demand that he act in a propaganda film where he would show and prove how he had faked the miracle.

They had this whole system rigged up where they had a wire connected to the crucifix, and they wanted him to pull it and wink at the camera and show, yes, this is all fake, nothing to see here. Of course, he refused. Even if this miracle was proven to not have been authentic, which we’ll never really know because those investigations were cut off, he wasn’t going to lie, obviously, and cause scandal to his people, and just cause this doubt in the real presence. So they beat him to death over this, and went on to actually create the film anyway. It’s still available to watch on YouTube. The full name is in here. It’s something like, Those to Whom the Umbridge Comes, or some very unwieldy title like that.

Eric Sammons:

Very commonly titled.

Kristen Theriault:

Exactly. It’s like Concrete, or When the Paint Dries. Which, by the way, I actually like how my title, which I really love this title, actually sounds like a socialist realist title, if you’re thinking of it in another way. But, yes, this case with Father Toufar happened right at the beginning when communism was taking over. So it’s really this ideological warfare, and priming the populace through the discrediting of the Catholic Church that happened before any of the overt persecution.

Eric Sammons:

Now, did they have phases where they would try to be friendly with the Catholic Church and not say anything against it in order to try to be chums with them? Is that happening at different communist parties? Have they tried that?

Kristen Theriault:

It does. There’s this good cop, bad cop mentality, and it ebbs and flows depending on… Especially throughout the 1970s in Eastern Europe, there was this period of cooling a little bit. That’s when the Prague Spring happened in 1968, and the church was a bit more free at that point. But typically, the most insidious tactic that is used to pretend to marry Catholicism and communist ideology together is in Latin America, at least liberation theology, which you alluded to a bit in the beginning, because this is really this… Studying Castro is a very interesting topic because he never actually disavowed his Catholicism, per se, as the line was much more clear in Eastern Europe, for example.

But he basically perverted the Catholic ideals, especially those of social justice and claimed that, “Oh, if you’re not supporting communism, then you don’t care about the poor, and you can’t be considered to be acting in charity,” and all these other perversions of what we know the gospel actually states. So that was very confusing, ideologically, in the East. This is a really interesting element of Czechoslovakia, is that there were actually two churches, this shadow church that was the state church that was very similar to what we see in China today, actually, where the communist authorities would select the bishops, they would promote their company men from within, and they would get those priests to either just not speak against communism or to actually actively push their doctrines.

Versus the underground church, the ones who remained loyal to the Vatican and refusing to take part in this schismatic act of allowing a state authority to call the shots. They, of course, had to operate in secret and were completely cut out from the seized property. They couldn’t use church buildings, or vestments, or any of the treasures that the church had previously held in that country. So there was this friendliness sometimes, but those who I interviewed could always see through it, and they knew that this wasn’t going to actually benefit the church in the long run.

Many times the argument would go, “Oh, at least you can go to mass,” which I think we hear sometimes today in terms of ideological issues of, “Oh, well I’m here for the sacraments, it doesn’t matter what’s being taught,” and that was a dangerous trap to slip into because the process with those they were chummy with was more gradual and more of this ideological, again, warfare to get you to the boiling frog, except communism slowly over time.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, it does seem like… Obviously, communism has been tried. I was going to say has been successful, only in the sense of gaining power. It obviously has never been actually successful. But in various places in the world, Eastern Europe, Russia, China, Latin America, South America, it does seem like they go different routes on how they deal with the Catholic Church. In the Americas at least, it seems to be much more a matter of co-opting the church, and the church to basically endorse them, maybe because of course the Catholic Church is much stronger in the Americas than it would be in, for example, Russia, or China, or something.

And I think it’s more popular here in America, those who are pushing communism to try to… You’ll see progressive Catholics do this. What would be your nutshell argument if somebody is basically, “Okay, the church cares for the poor. The church wants to support poor. The church in fact talks about us having solidarity with the poor, and being with them.” How is that different from what communism is doing, which also claims to be helping the poor, being in solidarity with the poor? What is that difference you would tell a Catholic between those two?

Kristen Theriault:

First, I would disavow them of this notion that communism actually does help the poor, because it really is just the changing of hands of the means of production of capital. This Uber class always is created under communism where the party apparatchiks are the ones who have the wealth, and have the dachas on the lake, and are able to really draw power to themselves and oppress the little man. Again, it’s just those class distinctions. The members of those classes have flipped.

But I think Friedrich Hayek said that all monopolies will be nationalized at some point. It’s a very similar process that happens with this consolidation of power in the more social sense as well. So I don’t think those who lived through communism would say that they actually gained more wealth under this system. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as has been proven, that collectivization does not work and, actually, people are in the ubiquitous bread lines that we all associate with communism, just inability to meet your basic daily needs is always something that happens.

So then, ideologically, there is, as many people have outlined before, a stark difference between charity that is something that the church orders us to partake in that is an act of free will, versus a charity or a pseudo-charity that is forced upon the populace at the societal level, and it removes the agency of the individual there. So there is really no perfect system of government in which, of course we’re not utopians, but we do, of course, seek to live in a better world, and seek to relieve the suffering of the poor in the ways that we can. So in the US, I think we’re at this pivotal moment where over the past, even just 70 years, the role of the church as the provider of these services has been co-opted almost completely by the state. So the church is imperative to live in that way, and to love your neighbor as yourself has been neutered.

Eric Sammons:

In our country, in America, there’s been this gradual move from a more limited government to a government that’s much more involved in every aspect of life, including economically. In Russia, it was overnight. Almost literally, you went from monarchy and then the temporary government, I can’t remember what kind of government system it was, for six months or whatever it was, and then you have communism overnight. But here, like I said, it’s been much more gradual.

Catholics have been often convinced to go along with this because this idea of government helping the poor is a good thing, and it helps… Now, my card are on the table as I am pretty radically free market and anti-government, so I think at the beginning of that discussion, it was off the table. But, what would you say? At what point does it get dangerous? Does it get to be really against Catholic thought to go from no government, for example, just anarchy, all the way to communism? Where is that balance that we should go for, and are we past it already here?

Kristen Theriault:

I know. I think it depends on the system of government. Also, I always remember that our government was founded upon human beings acting with principles that have really been lost, just basic moral and human dignity principles that really are not as common anymore as they would’ve assumed they would’ve been. So a government by the people, of the people only reflects the basic moral temperature of that people. So, we are definitely headed in the wrong direction because of our moral formation.

But the balance, I would say a good example that helped me to grapple with this question lately was the problem of Indi Gregory in the UK. Everyone speaks, of course, of socialized healthcare as something that is desirable because many people in the United States struggle to get proper healthcare, and our system is far from perfect. But the rule of thumb that I always use is to be a pessimist in the government, when it takes rights away, very rarely gives them back without some major shift, or forcing that.

So when you are handing over the decisions, over life and death really, through healthcare, to the government, what is the worst possible thing that can happen? Which we see did happen, unfortunately, in this case. She’s not the first, there have been several babies over the past decade who have unfortunately been condemned to death by the NHS, really. Many people would say, “Oh, this is just a conspiracy theory,” something that 10 years ago we thought maybe would not have happened. But if you follow the seizure of rights to its logical conclusion then, yes, this is something you have to always consider, especially given the actual moral status of those who are in charge.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, whenever something is free, like free healthcare, there’s always a major cost.

Kristen Theriault:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

It’s always very expensive.

Kristen Theriault:

Exactly.

Eric Sammons:

But in this case, it’s even sadly the cost of lives-

Kristen Theriault:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

You see with communism. Now, before I talk about… I want to ask you about some of the heroes that you focus on. You have a chapter here, and I want to make sure I get right, the Doctrine of the Antichrist, I believe is what it’s called. So, that’s pretty hardcore. We’re not saying, “Oh, I don’t agree with this political system. I think it’s bad.” But you’re calling it Doctrine of the Antichrist. Why is it that you feel like you can use… I know you’ve already touched on this a little bit, but you’re just giving no quarter at all to communism. You’re literally calling it the Antichrist. So why is it that Catholics really should think of this as the Doctrine of the Antichrist?

Kristen Theriault:

So this was informed by, actually, my reading for Sophia. As you probably know, I’m a spokesperson for a lot of our reprints. In the last year, we published a lot on the Antichrist. So I was reading book after book on the apocalypse and the Antichrist, and-

Eric Sammons:

That’s kind of a downer.

Kristen Theriault:

I know, right? It’s a great year. After a while, I just started to think, “Wow, this sounds a lot like what communism is promising.” It goes back… I always receive truths best through literature. So again, I’ll refer to Lord of the World and how this really portrays the Antichrist as someone who is sneaky. Many people have made the mistake of thinking the Antichrist will introduce himself as such, and will be walking around with devil horns, and be this obvious caricature of evil.

But no, instead he’s going to be very sly, and he’s going to cloak himself in the language of justice and truth. Again, he will seek to be the Messiah. So he has to act at that job, it’s not something he can just show his true colors from the very beginning. So really, it comes down to this false messianism that we discussed at the beginning, that the popes identified very early on, is that the Antichrist will seek to be a false Messiah, and communism also pauses itself as this false worldly Messiah.

It sounds intense, but this is the ideological mismatch that leads to the bloodshed, and that leads to the ends justifying the means, because if a 1,000 years of peace is coming in the near future, once you establish world communism, it doesn’t really matter how many lives are lost in the meantime. As Stalin said, “The death of one is a tragedy. The death of millions is just a statistic.” So this really matched this idea that the Antichrist is going to be this false prophet, this person who is promising paradise on earth, which is an impossibility, and will always implode. So, that is the central through line that makes them similar.

Eric Sammons:

This is to be contrasted with. What you’re not saying, I know, is what was big in my day when I was much younger, it was when Gorbachev was in charge. Evangelical Protestants, which I was one at the time, would call him the Antichrist ’cause he had the mark of the beast on his forehead.

Kristen Theriault:

Wow, I’ve never heard that one before, actually.

Eric Sammons:

Yes, he absolutely was. There was a big strain of Evangelical Protestants here in America that Gorbachev was the Antichrist, and they would tie in that birthmark he had as the mark of the beast. But what you’re saying more is that the system itself… I guess you almost call it antichristic, in the sense that anything that posits a paradise here on earth, it is a false messiah because that’s what the actual Messiah brings.

Kristen Theriault:

Exactly.

Eric Sammons:

So that makes this basically anti-Christian. Like I said, antichristic because the people who run it… As Stalin, there’s no question he’s an antichrist figure. He’s not the Antichrist.

Kristen Theriault:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

But St. John talks about multiple antichrists, it’s not like there’s just… There will be one, but there’s his forerunners, so to speak, his John the Baptist, like a Stalin or something.

Kristen Theriault:

Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Obviously, the actual big A Antichrist has not yet come because everyone who’s a potential candidate is either too old or dead already, so these are pre-figurements of that. One book that I relied on heavily for this, just hashing this out, was Father Vincent Miceli’s books on the Antichrist, and also one called the Gods of Atheism. In the second one, he forwards the theory that basically, atheism is not the absence of worship as it claims to be, but rather the worship of idols because the human soul has built into it that innate desire to worship God, and that doesn’t go away even if God’s existence is denied, so something else will take its place. So whether that’s the idol of consumerism, or a false religion, et cetera, something will fill in that vacuum.

As I talk about in the book, communism is this totalizing ideology that fills that vacuum very well because it really is in this religious language. I briefly mentioned in the book the story of these Gulag survivors who were true believers in the party, and I speak about a book that focused on their stories particularly. They were sent off to the Gulag, and they couldn’t believe that the party was wrong in their decision. So they had internalized the shame and guilt, and thought they must have done something wrong even if they don’t remember doing it. So they would gaslight themselves into thinking, “Yes, I am some wrecker, or some counter-revolutionary.”

After their release even, they would petition the party to be reinstated in good standing as party members. So it’s this process of penance and redemption that really mimics the rituals of an actual religion and, of course, as we know of confession and penance. So that’s what makes this system so much more insidious than, again, really a political or economic failure, is that it has this actual element of religious fervor that’s baked into it.

Eric Sammons:

You tell stories, and the funny thing about this book is, so far… How long have we been going? About 25 minutes, or so, and it’s all been how terrible communism is. But the book is actually a hopeful book because, our victory, the way we are victorious often is through suffering. Obviously, that’s how our Lord was victorious, is through suffering, and we have to be the same way. So you tell stories of Catholics who basically survived communist oppression. Of course, millions did not survive it throughout its history. But, I think that’s an uplifting story for us. But before I ask you about any specific ones, how did you find these stories? How did you research them, and discover these different stories? I don’t think most of them are well-known. It’s not like you just call the New York Times about one, let’s do that.

Kristen Theriault:

Right. It was really providential. I put out inquiries and tried to solicit interviews for a few months before and, of course, this process had begun several years ago. But mostly through networking and through friends, I was able to find… One of the most interesting interviews I think was with a Slovak politician who had actually worked with the underground church, and worked directly with Bishop Ján Chryzostom Korec, who was later a cardinal that listeners may be familiar with.

I found him through a friend who had a priest who was from Slovakia who had contacts still, and he was just very happy to share his story, and to really provide a lot of great detail, and to guide me through it. So that was just something I never would have thought that I would’ve ever met someone at that level before. Others came from friends and colleagues. Someone who endorsed the book actually, Philip, introduced me to Olga, whose story is featured in the Czechoslovakia section. For the interviews with Cuban expats, I actually went down to Miami and met with a lot of them in person at the Bay of Pigs Museum, which is really this amazing place.

If anyone is ever in the area, I would highly recommend going because it’s staffed entirely by veterans of the Bay of Pigs Invasion who are still with us. It’s just this living history museum where they can tell you all their stories, and they’re all just in such good spirits, and love sharing about this. Some feedback I often got was that, oftentimes, people don’t ask them these questions, and some people thought that their lives were boring even. I remember talking to someone and he said, “Oh, you don’t really want to hear about my story. Everybody went through this,” and then two sentences later, he was talking about how he actually decided not to go to the Bay of Pigs at the last second because his CIA agent had warned him it would be dangerous. I’m like, “Boring and this event do not go in the same sentence.”

Eric Sammons:

That’s like a movie plot.

Kristen Theriault:

I know, exactly. So what I discovered is, everyone thinks that their lives are just ordinary. Really, the point of this book is that you don’t have to be famous, you don’t have to be a Solzhenitsyn level to have an important story, and that many of these stories are being lost forever as the survivors grow older. They ultimately are universal in the sense that their strong Catholic faith is what guided each of them through this, so I think they are a lot more relatable to us who are going through something similar, more so in the lines of white martyrdom here in the west.

Eric Sammons:

I think you got this book in time because we’re getting further and further away from… There’s still communism in China and stuff. But from somebody like the Eastern European countries and places like that, we’re getting further and further away from that. I remember, 20 years ago I was at a parish and we got a priest from Hungary there. He was a young priest, and I didn’t really think much about it. This was 2005 or something, and he was probably about 35, like I said, relatively young. I remember, we got to know him a little bit and stuff. Then somehow, I’m a dummy, but it clicked me all of a sudden like, “Wait a minute, he grew up in a communist country.” I didn’t even think about it because I was not putting it all together.

Kristen Theriault:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

I remember asking about it. He’s like, “Oh, yeah.” He was just very matter of fact about it, about the fact that they had to… It was constant pressure. There was constant desire… Basically, to not be Catholic would help you out a lot.

Kristen Theriault:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

He talked about his own family being faithful. Of course, he ended up becoming a priest. It just was amazing because it was very disconnected. Because, almost like in America, once the wall fell, okay, now that’s done. Then we meet people… Actually, when I was at Steubenville in the mid-90s, actually, there was a fellow student with me who had basically been involved in the overthrow of the communist government, which I think it was one of the Soviet satellites, Lithuania’s, I can’t remember which one.

Kristen Theriault:

Wow, that’s amazing.

Eric Sammons:

But he was talking about how he was part of this big… They all decided, they knew they could get shot, but they were like, “Nope, we’re all just going to show up and hope enough people show up that they don’t shoot us.” Fortunately for him, they didn’t. But, it’s amazing. Now, you focus on a few countries. You have Cuba, you have Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, I think are the main four. So, why don’t you just… People, read the book. For people, I just want people to know that they can find these stories. But why don’t you tell us a story from somebody in Hungary, one of the stories that you found of what they went through.

Kristen Theriault:

Sure. In Hungary, I interviewed a woman whose name is Teresa. I actually met her at St. Kieran’s down in Miami. This was actually where I was studying mostly the Cuban story, and this is where the shrine of Our Lady of Charity, which is one of the Cuban cultural centers there, was. But, she also was in that area. So providentially, again, I was joined together by our anti-communism with the Cuban community, and with her story as well. She had an interesting story because she escaped communism very early on, in 1948, when she was still a child.

So several of the stories in the book, they either grew up under communism as an Olga and František’s case, where they each kind of have this moment in their childhood where they realize that communism is evil, and it’s either the STB, the secret police had invaded their house and had been ripping through their drawers, or some other formative moment that helped them to navigate the rest of their time under this system.

In Teresa’s case, she had that moment, but she was able to get out quite quickly. She remembers the war, actually. She was really little during the war, and she would see the bombs coming down and exploding, and would just start clapping because she thought they were fireworks, she didn’t know any better. So the war through the eyes of a child, just amazing. Then her father was a factory owner of a textile factory in Hungary. So when the communists took over, of course, he was part of this targeted class of property owners.

She remembers one day, communists somehow got into their apartment and started ransacking through their clothes, and threw a trunk of her mother’s belongings out of the window. She remembers seeing all of her mother’s white dresses just floating down into the mud, and that was the formative moment for her. Beyond that, her father was imprisoned for a few weeks, I believe, towards the beginning, and his fellow inmates warned him, “You have to get out. This is not going to end well for you,” showing him what had happened in Russia, not only to Catholics, but also to those who are members of his class.

His trial was the next week, and really in something that she believes to be a miracle, he was able to be let free after his trial. This is because all of his workers came to testify on his behalf, and the textile factory’s signature textile was this red checkered gingham pattern, and they all came wearing that as either arm bands, or tucked into their hats, or something. So seeing the show of solidarity from the proletariat, the judges actually let him go. From that point, they fled west to Austria.

She talks about just the harrowing escape. They would have to travel either by cart, or on foot, going under barbed wire. Her sisters were separated from her parents at one point, and she actually was put into the care of some nuns who were helping children to escape communism. She was reunited with her parents in Austria. She has a memory of her first Christmas outside of Czechoslovakia, and the American soldiers were going around distributing candy and presents to the children. So, this very happy and just good impression of the United States started with them then. She eventually emigrated to the US, as we know, and became a citizen here. So, I interviewed her. Actually, her mother was still alive at that point, and she was 104 years old, I believe.

Eric Sammons:

Wow.

Kristen Theriault:

To her very last breath, she actually lived in her bedroom, decorated with that same textile that the factory had produced back in Hungary. She passed away several days after we were able to get this story. So really, I’m just grateful for that, and just the timing of everything that happened that way.

Eric Sammons:

Have they been back to Hungary since the communism fell there?

Kristen Theriault:

I believe she has, yes. I asked her about any family ties, branches of the family that were still there, and she said that that was one of the greatest losses for her of communism, was just the absolute moratorium on communication. By the time she was able to get back or to try to track them down, nobody really knew who she was anymore. There was no actual family bond there anymore, so she really doesn’t have that strong connection with her homeland, and with her family that she would’ve had otherwise.

Eric Sammons:

I think that the trauma of being forced out we can’t underestimate. Most of us don’t even want to move to another city.

Kristen Theriault:

Right.

Eric Sammons:

This is in America, in the same state even. These people are basically forced out of their country with nothing, and no way to contact the people who are still back in the country they came from. It just is amazing. Now, there’s a lot of stories in the book and I, like I said, encourage people to get When the Sickle Swings. Again, it’s under, if you’re searching for it, Kristen Van Uden. I will put a link to it, of course, in the show notes. Buy it from Sophia Institute Press. But one of the last things I want to ask is, you’re talking about these historical examples. Is this still going on today, and is there a danger of it still happening? If so, where and what can we do about it?

Kristen Theriault:

Yes. So it’s important to remember that there are still about half a dozen overtly communist countries, including China where, as we know, from constant articles on crisis and elsewhere, the church suffers continually, Vietnam, Nicaragua. I actually had a story from Nicaragua that I was going to feature in the book that we couldn’t use because it’s dangerous there. The situation is so tenuous since last year that the interviewee didn’t feel comfortable sharing that anymore. Similarly, in China, I had a few leads, and unfortunately it’s just too dangerous for many of them to want to share these stories, even from the great leap forward and from 60 plus years ago. Cuba, of course, is still communist, even though the Castros have both died, they still suffer under that system and under the poverty. So, this is not something that went away when the Berlin Wall fell, unfortunately.

Then the other side of that is this infiltration that you’ve mentioned, this soft creep of communism both in the West, in Europe, and really into the international structures, such as the UN and the EU, that has really embedded itself into the ideologies of most leaders. This is where I think many of the stories that I feature that discuss more of white martyrdom, and as Olga put it, “Death by a thousand cuts,” are going to be quite informative because we see that the pendulum just keeps swinging. While we may not have to make the ultimate sacrifice of red martyrdom for our faith, we certainly can relate to these issues of losing a job, being denied entry into university, or being ostracized in a more social way, and all the economic hardship that comes with that through just the ideological turn towards communism and the public psyche.

Eric Sammons:

I think one of the… Solzhenitsyn, of course, is the one who really talked about this a lot, is that the ground that’s laid for communism is the acceptance of lies, is the public acceptance, where basically public figure says something that everybody knows is a lie, everybody knows that everybody knows it’s a lie-

Kristen Theriault:

I love that quote.

Eric Sammons:

Yet, everybody still goes along with it.

Kristen Theriault:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

That’s exactly what’s happening today. I’m not saying we’re under communist persecution in America. But yet, at the same time, that’s exactly what’s happening here. We have these lies, like the transgender lie, the most prominent one right now, the abortion lie, the homosexual marriage, all that stuff. But it’s a lie, and it’s like everybody knows it’s a lie. The transgender one particularly, because I think there are people who believe homosexuality is fine and stuff.

Actually, I think there’s people who have deluded themselves believe that abortion is for the good. But everybody knows that the man who says he’s a woman playing golf or whatever is not actually a woman, but we’re supposed to act like it. So I would say, one of the things that we can do is we speak the truth, and that gives a lie to the lie. It shows that the lie is not the case there. I think that’s what you see in the stories of these people. The ones who had to escape it, basically, they weren’t willing to tell the lie anymore.

Kristen Theriault:

Right. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes, that everyone plays along, whether that be for social acceptance or personal gain. After a while, if you act like this, you actually lose the faculty of conscience, and you lose the ability to discern right from wrong, just even in the practical sense. So in addition to speaking the truth, one message that really came through from each participant was that the ultimate victory is to hold onto your own soul, and that these political victories such as… I go into the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia, and how that was really spearheaded by this Catholic tradition of public pilgrimage and public protest, that is wonderful. Of course, we see the act of God in that.

But also, it doesn’t matter if you helped to collapse communism in your country, you still have lost your own soul because you went along with the lies in some case. So that protection of the mind, and the battle within your own heart was really the central problem. As someone I interviewed said, “Communism tries to steal your property. That’s understandable. We can deal with that. But, it also tries to steal your soul.” Really, some of these stories, such as the guards trying to get Catholics to apostatize in Cuban prisons, and then killing them anyway and saying, “Your soul is going to hell now.”

Just, as they say, “Say the quiet part out loud.” Where, if you’re just a materialist who doesn’t believe in the immortal soul, why would you rejoice in sending someone to hell? So it speaks to this deeper diabolical nature of communism, and the title I think ties us all together because it comes from Joel 3:13, “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.” I just thought it was interesting that this ubiquitous imagery of communism, the hammer and the sickle, also are found throughout scripture. The sickle especially is speaking of this moment where the wheat is separated from the chaff, and the moment of judgment as the soul is brought before the throne of God, of course, represented by the hammer of justice. So that is ultimately the message, is that you’re responsible for keeping the faith for your own sake, for the sake of the church, and also that will have this ripple effect out into even temporal victories.

Eric Sammons:

One thing that the book does that is very helpful is, I think it helps give us courage because we see it all the time, and I’m sympathetic to this, where people are worried about saying something out loud because they could lose their job, or they think they could lose their job at least. I get that, there’s prudence always involved if you’re a dad supporting his family, and I get that. I’m not saying every situation, you have to proclaim it from the rooftops, whatever the lie is.

But at the same time, I do think we should compare ourselves to the men and women you talk to here in your book and recognize, we haven’t even started to suffer, but we will go down that path if we don’t stand up now. That’s the key. If we don’t stand up now and aren’t willing to potentially lose our jobs, or whatever the case may be, we might have to move to… Whatever. Then we’re going to end up losing our job anyway, or losing our soul, as you said. So I think that’s one reason I would recommend people, in our era today, to read the book because I do think it helps give us courage. So thank you for writing it, and your years of research, really.

Kristen Theriault:

Thank you.

Eric Sammons:

Because, like you said, you’ve been thinking about this since you were a kid, it sounds like.

Kristen Theriault:

I know. Finally, my obsession has been given a platform.

Eric Sammons:

Very good, very good. I will put a link to buy the book from Sophie Institute Press in the show notes. I’ll probably also put a link into Catholic Exchanges, if it’s cool.

Kristen Theriault:

Yeah, thank you.

Eric Sammons:

Also, if you want any links to the books you mentioned about the Antichrist, I think that’s very good because that helps. Lord of the World, I just reread again a few months ago.

Kristen Theriault:

It’s so good.

Eric Sammons:

It is so good. It’s funny because it’s obviously antiquated on some of the technology stuff, which is funny, but it goes beyond that so much that you don’t really care that much about that. Yeah, it’s very good. Well, thank you very much though, Kristen, for being on the program. I assume that Catholic Exchange and the book is where people can find stuff about you?

Kristen Theriault:

That’s right. Yep.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, very good.

Kristen Theriault:

Best place to go. Thanks again.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, that’s great. Thank you, Kristen. Until next time, everybody, God love you.

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