A Story Of A Hero
We are not alone. The Letter to the Hebrews
speaks of "a great cloud of witnesses
that surround us". These witnesses are
normal people who have managed to soar over
the paralyzing mediocrity that encircles
us and can thus help us "throw off everything
that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,
and run with perseverance the race marked
out for us." We all need this kind of
Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek is one of
witnesses. Just one month ago, he resigned
as Archbishop of Minsk in Belarus because
he "reached the age-limit".
normal retirement age for Bishops is
The Pope accepted his resignation only
four months short of his 92nd birthday!
The story of this man is remarkable.
on October 21, 1914, Kazimierz was
a priest on April 8, 1939, a few months
the army occupied the eastern area
where his parish was located.
He was arrested and kept in the Brzesc
where in the course of two months he
interrogated 59 times. On June 21,
he was released by the people of the
taking advantage of the disorder caused
the German offensive. Father Swiatek
back to his parish, but found it occupied
by the Gestapo, which made it difficult
him to exercise his priestly ministry.
When the offensive of the Soviet Red
was approaching in 1944, he refused
and stayed with his parishioners. He
arrested and sent to prison in Minsk
he spent five months. "They did
shoot me because, as they said, they
not want to waste a bullet on me."
This was the time when the Church in
Europe was being persecuted brutally
Soviet regime. "In the times of
the Soviet Union was nothing but a
- an endless enclosure of barbed wire
thousands of prisoners died of the
conditions of the life and work imposed
them inside these labor camps."
In 1945, he was condemned to ten years
forced labor. He spent two years in
gulag and then seven in the correctional
facility at the Vorkuta artic circle.
He was kept in total isolation. "It
was only during my last years inside
gulag that I managed to obtain hosts
wine to celebrate holy mass in secrecy:
used a ceramic cup as a chalice and
in a match box consecrated hosts to
to Catholic detainees. I remember well
Easter mass held with Catholic prisoners
among clouds of steam inside a laundry
In my whole life as a priest, this
Easter I recall most dearly."
One Christmas vigil he organized a
"I brought with me my two daily
of bread, which I had put aside the
beforehand. The other prisoners (about
or so) offered what they had received
food packages from their families.
"As I was speaking to those in
the door flew open. With riot-stick
a government official rushed in with
bearing a rifle and bayonet. "What
you doing?" he asked. I stood
explained that we were celebrating
rite. Then, while holding the host,
if he wanted to receive it, too, so
exchange Christmas greetings with us.
was a very unusual and tense situation:
our hands were held tight - his clutching
a riot-stick and mine held firmly onto
host. The officer put down the club
possession, excusing himself for not
able to receive the host while on duty,
allowed us to continue our vigil service.
He left the room with the soldier."
The next morning Swiatek was expelled
sent to Siberia, the far-off tundra
to the north where even the subsoil
In 1954 he was released. "I was
to the KGB office outside the camp.
commander was seated behind his desk
stood in front of him with my back
wall. The officer examined a voluminous
of paperwork documenting my days as
Now and again he glanced up at me,
me with astounded expression. Having
the last page, he asked: "How
have you been able to bear it all and
be alive?" He couldn't understand
I answered: "Commander, I owe
to my unshakeable faith in God. It
who saved me." He said: "But,
exists"? He sat there a long time
deep thought… He then took pen in hand,
with a sweeping gesture, signed for
Afterward, he simply and gently said:
are free to go." I left his office
and I was free! I immediately offered
a prayer of thanksgiving: God, you
powerful, so good!"
When I read such real life stories,
one question comes to my mind - at
does our faith has to be become wild
passionate to be credible in this neo-pagan
world of ours?
Do you have an answer?!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright