- Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, the former Archbishop of Minsk who survived nearly a decade in the Soviet Gulag, died on July 21 at the age of 96. He witnessed the persecution of the Catholic faith and its revival in Belarus.
“God summoned his faithful servant, a witness of faith and a symbolic figure of the Catholic Church of our time, who lived a long, difficult and even miserable life,” Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk said in an announcement on the Church in Belarus’ website.
The cardinal was born in 1914 in a part of the Russian Empire which is now in Estonia. With his entire family, he was deported in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. His family settled in Poland in 1922. In 1932 he entered a seminary in the city of Pinsk and he was ordained just before World War II.
He was imprisoned by the invading Soviets but escaped when Hitler attacked in 1941, Polish Radio reports.
After the Soviets returned, the future cardinal was deported to Siberia in 1945. He spent nine years of hard labor in the brutal Gulag system until his release in 1954.
He returned to Pinsk, now part of the Belarusian Socialist Soviet Republic, where repression of the Catholic Church would remain strong until the late 1980s.
When freedom of worship began to return, then-Fr. Swiatek helped organize the restoration of the cathedral in Pinsk. He also became active in working with nascent Polish associations.
Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop in 1989, and then the Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev in 1991.
In 1994 he was made a cardinal as a result of his work on the revival of the Church in Eastern Europe. Though he retired in 2006, he remained active and respected.
Cardinal Swiatek suffered from poor health towards the end of his life and underwent several operations which Archbishop Kondrusiewicz characterized as a “new Golgotha.”
“From my heart I thank all those who were close to the cardinal in the difficult moments of his life and prayed for his intentions,” Archbishop Kondrusiewicz continued.
“I appeal to all of you, dear pastors, nuns and faithful people to pray for the eternal peace of our beloved pastor, that he be happy in heaven, living in the light of God's glory.
Funeral Masses for the cardinal will be held in the Archdiocese of Minsk and in Pinsk from July 23 to 25.