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Belarusian Catholics Bid Farewell To Prominent Cardinal

Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek (April 2005)
Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek (April 2005)
PINSK, Belarus -- The first leader of the Belarusian Catholic Church, Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, has been buried in the southwestern town of Pinsk, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Swiatek died on July 21 at the age of 96.

Swiatek served as a priest for 70 years, including those he spent in the Gulag. He is credited with reviving the Catholic Church in Belarus and making it "Belarusian," which included the use of the Belarusian language at church services.

Swiatek was sentenced to death for his religious views after the Soviet Union annexed what is now western Belarus in 1939.

He avoided execution due to the attack on the USSR by Nazi Germany in June 1941.

In 1944, Swiatek was sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp. Upon his release in 1954 he was named a priest in a Pinsk parish.

In 1991, Pope John Paul II named Swiatek the first leader of the newly established Minsk-Mahileu Metropolitan and apostolic administrator of the Pinsk diocese, a position he held until 2006.

The pope named him a cardinal in 1994 and bestowed on him the "Fidei Testis" (Witness to the Faith) award in 2004.

Catholic delegations from Lithuania and Russia, representatives of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, and local officials attended Swiatek's funeral. Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolence, which was read aloud.

The telegram said: "I offer prayers to God to give eternal rest to this thorough and sincere pastor. I share the pain with the diocesan community in which he performed with great zeal his episcopal ministry."

After the funeral mass Swiatek was laid to rest in the crypt of Pinsk's Catholic Church.

Read and watch more in Belarusian here