Belarus: A Committed Follower Of Christ Returns To The Lord

The name, Kazimierz Swiatek, may not ring a bell to many. But Pope John Paul II described him as “the Way of the Cross of persecution, carrying the cross of prison, of unjust condemnation and of the labour camps with their burden of toil, cold and hunger”

Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek of Minsk-Mohilev, Belarus, died recently at the age of 96. He had led a memorable life filled with tribulations.

Kazimierz Swiatek was born on October 21, 1914, into a Polish family in Walk, Russian empire, now Valda, Estonia. As a young child, he and his family were deported to Siberia by the Tsar during the Russian revolution. His father died fighting in the Polish-Soviet war. He and his family were then allowed to return to Belarus. On his return he joined the seminary and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1939.

In the same year, Swiatek was accused of espionage. He was found guilty in Stalinist show trial, and sentenced to death. He escaped execution when German troops temporarily gained control of the territory. In 1944, with the Soviet Union again controlling Belarus, he was deported to a prison camp in Siberia, where he endured 9 years in the brutal Gulag prison camp system and subjected to hard labour. He was held at Vorkuta, which is inside the Arctic Circle in Siberia. "For ten years, I was completely isolated from the world's realities," he later remarked. The Soviet-era persecution of the church was "truly satanic”.

coat of arms for Cardinals

Released at the end of his sentence in 1954, Swiatek ministered in Pinsk. After the fall of the Soviet empire, the Catholic Church emerged from decades of repression. In 1991, Pope John Paul II created the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev and Father Swiatek was named Archbishop of Minsk. He was created a cardinal in 1994.

The late Cardinal was quoted in 2004 when he said that in Belarus “every parish, every village, every family has its witnesses of faith who suffered, some even offering up their lives for their faith”.

After more than 65 years of active ministry and several run-ins with the Soviet police, he continued to serve as archbishop until 2006 when he was already past the age of 91.

Pope Benedict XVI in his condolence message said: “I recall the courageous witness he gave to Christ and his Church in particularly difficult times, as well as the enthusiasm with which he later contributed to the spiritual rebirth of his country.”

Cardinal Swiatek had been the 2nd oldest living cardinal. The other, is Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, the former Archbishop of Ravenna, Italy who is 97.

The demise of Cardinal Swiatek reduces the number of members of the College of Cardinals to 196, of whom 114 are below the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote in a papal conclave.

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