Cardinal Swiatek Steps Down at Age 91

Prelate in Belarus Had Endured Exile and Forced Labor in Siberia

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 15, 2006 ( Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, a survivor of the Soviet gulags, who retired as head of the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev, in Belarus.

The 91-year-old cardinal had spent 10 years of his life in Soviet forced-labor camps.

The Vatican press office reported Wednesday that the Pope has named Auxiliary Bishop Antoni Dziemianko of Minsk-Mohilev as apostolic administrator of the vacant see.

On Sept. 27, 2004, Pope John Paul II awarded the Fidei Testis (Witness of Faith) prize to Archbishop Swiatek, conferred by the Paul VI Institute in recognition of heroism in living the faith.

"One could only endure with faith," explained the cardinal when asked how he was able to cope in the labor camps.

Born on Oct. 21, 1914, Kazimierz Swiatek was ordained a priest on April 8, 1939, a few months before invading forces occupied eastern Poland, where his parish was located.

He was arrested and kept in the Brzesc prison, where in the course of two months he was interrogated 59 times. On June 21, 1941, he was released by the people of the town, taking advantage of the disorder caused by the German offensive.

Stayed with flock

Father Swiatek walked back to his parish, but found it occupied by the Gestapo, which made it difficult for him to exercisehis priestly ministry.

When the offensive of the Soviet Red Army was approaching in 1944, Father Swiatek stayed with his parishioners. He was arrested and sent to prison in Minsk where he spent five months.

"They did not shoot me because, as they said, they did not want to waste a bullet on me," he once told ZENIT.

He was condemned to 10 years of forced labor. In September 1945, he was interned in the Marwinsk labor camp in eastern Siberia, where he stayed for two years. Then he was taken to a work camp in the Arctic.

When the Soviet regime collapsed, John Paul II appointed Father Swiatek archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev, entrusting him with the renewal of the Catholic communities of Belarus. He elevated him to cardinal in 1994.