During World War II, Hungary sided with the Germans. That meant that as the Nazis were defeated, Russia took control of the country, and a communist government was set up that lasted until 1989. The Church suffered much during those years, especially during the initial Russian invasion of 1944-1945. One of the victims then was the Bishop of Gyor, Vilmos Apor.
Apor was born in Sevesgar, Transylvania, on February 20, 1892. Transylvania, then a part of eastern Hungary, was detached from it and added to Rumania after World War I. Vilmos came from a noble family, as had many of the Hungarian bishops, for it was customary for the second son of noble couples to enter the priesthood. Vilmos’ brother, Baron Gabor Apor, was Hungarian ambassador to the Holy See from 1939 to 1945.
Vilmos’ early career as a priest was apparently impressive, for on January 21, 1941, he was named Bishop of Gyor, a sizable city in northwest Hungary, with a Catholic population of 500,000. An American priest of Hungarian background describes Apor as an imposing person, “But very kind and personable”. Despite his aristocratic background, he was hardworking and had a strong sense of social justice. “Pastor of the poor,” they called him. In 1944 he provided emergency supplies to Jews being deported through his town.
The Russian invaders of 1945 were noted for their brutality. The terrorized women in particular, and did not hesitate to kill anybody who tried to defend them.
One who could not leave Hungarian women undefended was Bishop Apor.
The Bishop had hidden several pursued women from the predatory Russian soldiery in the cellar of his residence at Gyor. On Good Friday, March 30, 1945, a drunken band of armed Russian soldiers, intent on abducting them, approached the Bishop’s cellar determined to get in. Bishop Apor was standing in front of the door. The soldiers tried to push him away.
“No, you can’t go in,” he said.
Their answer? They shot him, wounding him mortally, and pressed on with their mad search.
The Bishop of Gyor had laid down his life in defense of the lives and virtue of a group of helpless women. He had obeyed the command of the Scriptures: “Defend the lowly and the fatherless… from the hand of the wicked deliver them” (Ps. 82:3-4). In the twinkling of an eye he had become a martyr, a new paschal victim.
Pope John Paul II acknowledge that fact officially when he beatified Vilmos Apor, Bishop and Martyr, in St. Peter’s Basilica on November 9, 1997.
–Father Robert F. McNamara