VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 27, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek received the Witness of Faith Award for his testimony of endurance during 10 years in Stalin’s forced labor camps.
John Paul II awarded the prize, conferred by the Paul VI Institute, to the 90-year old cardinal on Monday at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
The Holy Father considered this title particularly appropriate for the Byelorussian cardinal, who says his years of deportation in Siberia were years that one “could only endure” with faith.
“‘Witness of Faith’ is the appropriate title for a Christian, and it is especially so for a pastor dressed in cardinal’s robes, who during the difficult years of the persecution of the Church in Eastern Europe gave courageous testimony of Christ and his Gospel,” the Pope said during the ceremony.
“I dedicate this high recognition to the grandmothers of my country who were able to keep the faith during the years of persecution, transmitting it to their grandchildren and great grandchildren, impeding the Church from dying,” the cardinal said on Saturday, when being honored by the Pope Paul VI Institute at their headquarters in Brescia, Italy.
Born on Oct. 21, 1914, Kazimierz Swiatek was ordained a priest on April 8, 1939, a few months before the army occupied the eastern area of 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.
Father Swiatek walked back to his parish, but found it occupied by the Gestapo, which made it difficult for him to exercise his priestly ministry.
When the offensive of the Soviet Red Army was approaching in 1944, Father Swiatek refused to escape and 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 explained.
He was condemned to ten years of forced labor. In September 1945 he was interned in the Marwinsk labor camp in Eastern Siberia, where he stayed for two years.
Seeing that he was able to endure the cold and work, he was taken to the work camp in the Arctic, where he did construction work in terrible cold and had very little food.
As the Pope recalled in his address on Monday, after the Communist persecution, “you returned to the ecclesial community as a more credible witness of the Gospel: ‘Fidei Testis.'”
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 Byelorussia. He annointed him cardinal in November 1994.
Despite being 90, Cardinal Swiatek continues his pastoral activity as head of the Church in Minsk-Mohilev.
“By word and example you have proclaimed to all, believers and non-believers, the truth of Christ, light that enlightens every man,” the Bishop of Rome said when honoring the cardinal.