Hundreds Celebrate in Cleveland as St. Emeric Hungarian Catholic Church Reopens

Thanksgiving came early to Cleveland’s large Hungarian American community this year, when on November 4th more than 500 people gathered for a Mass to give thanks for a new beginning as they reopened St. Emeric (Szent Imre) Hungarian Catholic Church.

Photo by Krisztina Oláh

The beautiful church, built in 1925, was richly decorated with red-white-green bouquets reflecting the colors of the Hungarian flag.  In the back, a large banner welcomed Father Sándor Siklódi, the recently reinstated parish priest of St. Emeric, who was greeted by thunderous applause.  Although he began his remarks by saying “it seems like we met as recently as last week,” everyone was aware it has taken two and a half difficult years to reverse the local Bishop’s order to close St. Emeric on June 30, 2010.

Under the able leadership of Miklós and Ildikó Peller, St. Emeric appealed the Bishop’s decision to close the church, taking their well-documented case all the way to the Vatican.  Although reversal of a Bishop’s order is extremely rare, the Vatican in this case decreed that the Bishop’s decision to close 11 churches, including St. Emeric, was improperly executed.  Consequently, all of those churches have since been reopened, but only St. Emeric has been allowed to bring back Rev. Siklódi, its pastor for 25 years.

Dressed in Hungarian embroidered vestments presented by Father Alphonse Skerl of Chicago, Rev. Siklódi recalled the hope and despair felt during those years of the church’s closing as parishioners’ faith was put to a test.  But he noted, their faith was also strengthened in the difficult process.  He expressed gratitude that while he was transferred to St Stephen’s Church in Chicago, St. Emeric members under the leadership of Ms. Éva Szabó were accepted with “love and solidarity” by St. Colman Catholic Church.  Father Bob Begin, St. Colman’s priest even learned Hungarian to be able to read the scripture and sing hymns with his new parishioners.  The St. Colman Choir joined the reopening celebration, as Father Bob formally delivered the St. Emeric community back into the care of its pastor.

In his remarks, Miklós Peller, who so ably served as procurator of St. Emeric, expressed his thanks to all those who did not give up hope: the small group of parishioners led by Mr. János Juhász who gathered for prayer each Sunday outside the church; the Hungarian Scouts who took care of the building and its vicinity; to all Hungarians and Americans who helped St. Emeric in its crusade to save its beloved church.  Among these, he acknowledged the Hungarian American Coalition’s  efforts made in the spring of 2010, when Coalition Treasurer Zsolt Szekeres and Ambassador Georg Habsburg personally delivered St. Emeric’s appeal to the Vatican and advocated their case with the appropriate church officials.

Mr. Peller also spoke of the significance of November 4th in Hungarian history. In addition to being the feast day of St. Emeric, the church’s patron saint, it is also associated with a much more solemn event: on November 4, 1956, Soviet troops reentered Hungary to crush the 12 day-long Hungarian Revolution.  Those gathered at the service remembered the fallen heroes of 1956 in a moment of silence.

The standing room only crowd included canonical legal expert, Sister Kate Kuenstler, Bob Kloos representing Endangered Catholics, Sister Rita Mary, Cleveland Catholic Diocese, New York Hungarian Consul General Károly Dán, Cleveland Honorary Consul General László Bőjtös and Georgianna Bőjtös, Hungarian American Coalition Chair Emerita, Edith Lauer, more than 100 Hungarian Scouts of all ages, the Hungarian Scout Folk Ensemble, a large number of parishioners from St. Colman and other Catholic churches, and many Cleveland-area members of the Hungarian American Coalition.

Ildikó and János Kőrössy, two Coalition members with long years of devoted service to St. Emeric commented:

„The events of the last 28 months at St. Emeric Church have been painful and cruel. We have very special ties to St. Emeric: we were married there 47 years ago, our children were baptized there, and our daughter was married by Fr. Siklódi. We can’t begin to describe how  pleased we both are to return to our parish and our parishioner friends.”

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