Posted by: Fr Chris | October 6, 2011

Priest Who Outlasted Stalin … And all the Rest of the European Communists

Stalin leaves – for good?

The Catholic Herald in the UK posted an online article today in honor of one of my greatest heroes, Cardinal Swiatek. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/2011/10/05/the-cardinal-who-triumphed-over-stalin/

Father Swiatek puzzled a foreign Catholic charity with his enormous love of poverty, much like St Francis. The money he received always went to the seminarians, convents or parishes of old Byelorussia / Belarus.  Divided in 1919, and mostly reunited in 1945,  this territory had a poorly defined national identity, and in its western districts there was a large Catholic population. These were both Poles and Byelorussians, the latter coming from Greek Catholic families who had been driven out of their church by the tsars in 1839 or 1870 but who had kept a strong Catholic identity.

Father Swiatek told this story about his return to Pinsk. An officer of the NKVD would stop him every morning at the church door to talk to him, either about the parish and his work, or just general conversation. The latter could be very dangerous as it was easy to lure someone into an “anti-soviet” or “counter-revolutionary” statement. Butt this particular day the agent was engaged in a theology debate. Exasperated, Father Swiatek said, “Well someday even that statue of Stalin might be gone.”

The next morning the agent came to the church door waiting for the priest; immediately he asked, “Who do you know in Moscow?”

Father thought about in his head, and finally said he knew no one. “But you must, for you predicted it yesterday” continued the agent.

“What did I predict?”

“About the statue of Stalin.”

“What about it?”

“It is gone, completely removed. You must know someone in Moscow who warned you, for we knew nothing ourselves!”

And so it turned out that the priest’s casual comment was borne out by a decision in far-off Moscow, and the statue was not only gone, but no one knew its destination. The people’s admiration f or this long-suffering priest could barely be contained.

Later, he walked back to his wet and poor dwelling added on to that of a farm shed and pondered God’s use of de-stalinization to make the locals respect the Catholic Church because of a simple little comment.  And now everyone wanted to be his friend, and so the friend of the Catholic Church.

But Father Swiatek kept his caution. And soon enough, only the firm believers stayed on as his friend, while the rest wavered. The USSR eventually repudiated the public trials and executions which had swept the country since 1937.  The statues of Stalin disappeared, towns and avenues get their old names back,  and Khrushchev tried to reorganize communist life. He failed. All the different Communist autocrats failed, and communism itself failed. It sputtered down to a sad end, but things could only improve regarding freedom. That sputtered too, though.

Cardinal Swiatek at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

In the USSR’s western parts, the Catholic Church held its own, and has slowly built up again. It faces constant challenges, especially in Belarus, which has the sad title of “Europe’s Last Dictatorship.” The old guard like Cardinal Swiatek are passing, but thechurch which they kept alive at great personal cost is enduring. She has to face both western secularism and Belarusian politics of persecution. In the end though, the Church will indeed triumph.  And hopefully the day will come very soon when Lukashenko and his ilk will join Stalin, jofully consigned to the “dustbin of history.”

Here is an English biography that is pretty accurate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazimierz Świątek   and here is a new, much improved portal of Belarusian Catholic Church information and news that is really helpful: http://www.catholic.by/2/en/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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