You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.
- Saint Josaphat
On November 12, the Church remembers the life and tireless efforts of St. Josaphat Kuncevyc, the first Eastern Rite (Byzantine Catholic) saint to be canonized by Rome in 1876. This devout man preached and worked to encourage unity within the church and would eventually be martyred at the hands of the schismatic group he had worked to unite to the Apostolic See of Rome.
St. Josaphat Kuncevyc was born and baptized as Johannes in the small Lithuanian town of Volodymyr in either 1580 or 1584. It was not a happy time for the Ruthenian Church, in which he was raised, and which united itself to Rome in 1595. There were, however, members of the Church who maintained a schism from Rome, and had disdain for the “Uniates,” which was the term for those who were in full communion with Rome.
Though Johannes’s father was of noble heritage, he was devoted to commercial pursuits, and held the office of town-councilor. Both he and Johannes’s mother contributed to the fostering of piety in the future saint. As a child, he didn’t care much for typical child’s play, but rather spent time praying and assisting at the liturgy. As a student he was both talented and zealous. While still a youth, he fervently studied ecclesiastical Slav, and learned almost the entire casoslov (breviary), which he began to pray daily. He was offered a well paying partnership with a successful merchant and the hand of the merchant’s daughter in marriage. However, Johannes declined, discerning instead a calling to religious life.
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