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Church in Belarus Perseveres

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, now apostolic administrator of Pinsk, Belarus, blesses people during a 2010 Palm Sunday service in Minsk, Belarus. “I grew up in the Soviet Union in a time of persecution,” said Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, in a homily during a prayer service with students at St. Paul Catholic High School in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., 13 March. (photo: CNS/Vasily Fedosenko, Reuters) 

26 Mar 2012 – by Elisabeth Deffner

SANTA FE SPRINGS, Calif. (CNS) — Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, a native of Belarus, told a Catholic high school audience how he “grew up in the Soviet Union in a time of persecution” and “now there is another type of persecution.”

That persecution is “secularization, modern relativism,” said the archbishop, who is currently apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Pinsk, Belarus, in a homily during a prayer service with students at St. Paul Catholic High School in Santa Fe Springs.

But if Catholics live lives that are predicated on Jesus Christ, they can avoid falling prey to these types of persecution, he told the crowd of 100 that filled the school library. “Our faith must be a light in our daily life.”

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz was at the high school in the Los Angeles Archdiocese March 13.

He came to the United States after being invited to attend the Western Region Canon Law Society meeting March 2-7 in Las Vegas.

He also visited different organizations and individuals in Los Angeles to continue to strengthen bonds between the Minsk and Los Angeles archdioceses. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz hopes to send one of his priests to the International Institute for Theological and Tribunal Studies in Los Angeles this summer.

It is an altogether different world than the one in which he grew up.

Born into an ethnic Polish family in a village in eastern Belarus in 1946, the archbishop grew up in a war- torn country with a long history of religious persecution: Clergy were slaughtered, worshippers were forced to convert, and many churches were destroyed.

As a 16-year-old, the future priest entered the department of physics and mathematics at a teachers’ training college in his homeland, but had to leave after only a year because of “unpleasant voices” complaining about him being “a believer.”

In 1964 he entered the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute in Russia, graduating as a mechanical engineer in 1970. Though some people knew he was a practicing Catholic, in Leningrad — now St. Petersburg — he did not experience the persecution he suffered while at college in Belarus.

At that time, it was state policy for postgraduate students to spend five years working in a location selected by the government. The future archbishop was sent to Vilnius, the capital of predominantly Catholic Lithuania where, for the first time in his life, he grew accustomed to seeing churches staffed by clergy.

"In Vilnius, there were 10 churches and 15 priests," he recalled. “It was incredible.”

In Lithuania, there also was a Catholic seminary. At age 30, he entered it.

In 1989, just a few months before the Berlin Wall came down, then-Father Kondrusiewicz was ordained a bishop and appointed the apostolic administrator of Minsk, Belarus.

“That was a very good time,” he said, “a time of big political changes. There were new policies, new openness.”

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Tags: Eastern Europe Belarus Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz Belarus Catholic Church