The former Czechoslovakia was one of the countries in Eastern Europe where the Church was most brutally persecuted during the communist era. The Catholic faithful were subject to repression and reprisals, many priests were imprisoned or sent to labour camps, the convents were dissolved in 1950 and in a covert police operation, male and female religious were forcibly deported to "concentration convents" - isolated centres where they were deprived of all contact with the outside world. Church historian Vaclav Vasko has described these places as "nothing else but supervised concentration camps for religious". Nuns and sisters were urged to throw away their religious habits, in which case they were offered freedom and a chance to study. But almost all of them refused and remained faithful. 

On 20th February 1969 the atheist journalist Milos Vetvicka, writing in the journal "Reporter" , decided to call for the rehabilitation of the 7,646 religious sisters then in Czechoslovakia. He wrote "They wear long habits and a large cross on their breast. They live subject to pressure and discrimination, but they endure their fate with a smile, because Golgotha is also their mission. They hope in another world, because our world has proved to them that there is no justice in this one."

(Elderly sisters being cared for by a younger sister of the congregation © Aid to the Church in Need)

Following the political changes in Eastern Europe, the former Czechoslovakia was divided into two separate republics, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Today people can once again live their faith freely. But the religious sisters who lived through those times of oppression are old and frail today. So it is that the Norbertine (Premonstratensian) sisters in what is now the Slovakian town of Vrbove are caring lovingly for their elderly sisters. Recently, these ageing sisters, many of whom now need special care, had to be moved from their former accommodation, which had become dilapidated and unsuitable, and placed temporarily in an evangelisation centre. But this is only a short-term solution, since the centre can no longer be used for its intended purpose of pastoral work with the laity. As this work of evangelisation is also important to deepen the faith of the people the congregation wants to build additional rooms where the frail and elderly sisters can be cared for properly. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is keen to help with this project with a grant of $21,000. Sr Akvitna sent the following note of thanks to the charity: "May the Lord reward you for everything you are doing for the welfare of Holy Mother Church!"

The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929 

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