Belarus cardinal, who survived Stalin's labor camps, resigns

MINSK, Belarus (Interfax-Religion) - A 91-year-old survivor of the Soviet labor camps and oldest active cardinal heading an archdiocese has had his resignation accepted by Pope Benedict XVI.

Belarus Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek of the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev was replaced by Auxiliary Bishop Antoni Dziemianko of the same archdiocese, according to a Vatican June 14, 2006, statement.

Cardinal Sviontek was appointed to head the Belarus archdiocese in 1991, already beyond the normal retirement age of 75, by Pope John Paul II. He was elevated to the rank of cardinal, the first in the post-Soviet territories, in 1994.

Fifty years earlier, in 1944, he was arrested and spent 10 years in labor camps in Siberia and then north of the polar circle near Vorkuta. After his release, he returned to Belarus and became a priest at a Franciscan church in Pinsk.

Cardinal Sviontek told Interfax on June 15 that has said he intends to continue his religious work. "The main sense of my life and spiritual work after leaving office will be to serve the Lord and to (serve) people," he said.

The cardinal was to leave on June 15 for Pinsk in southern Belarus, where he will serve as apostolic administrator of the Pinsk Diocese. "Now I shall live in Pinsk and will come to the capital only on invitation," he said.

Commenting on the fact that in the years of his leadership the number of the Catholic churches in Belarus increased fourfold to 432, the cardinal said, "it was not my achievement, it was the will of God."