Fledging Faith in Belarus Faces Secularism

Interview With Archbishop of Minsk

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MINSK, Belarus, AUG. 20, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Though the Church in Belarus is thriving 20 years after religious freedom was restored, now the faithful must be on guard against the winds of secularism, says the archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz affirmed this in an interview with the Catholic news agency KAI.

The 64-year-old prelate reflected on how his generation learned the faith without even a priest for Mass, compared to the zeal the present generation has in imparting the faith to their youngsters.

The Church cannot sleep, he says, because people are searching for the faith and the Church must answer this need before it is too late.

Q: Does the Church in Belarus still need help from outside?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Yes, especially now when we are receiving many permissions for building shrines, in the first place in the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mahilyow. We also need staffing assistance, because there still are not enough priests. Twenty years ago there were around 60 Belarus-born priests, today their number reaches 290. In general, we have 460 priests and still one third of them are foreigners. The same situation is with nuns.

Q: How would you estimate Belarusians’ piety after 20 years of receiving religious freedom?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: In the first years there was a religious boom. Today we need to take care and develop what we have achieved. We can see that secularizing streams are reaching us as well, though they may be not as strong as in the West.

The problem is that in Minsk there are only four Catholic shrines. This figure is very small; more temples need to be erected. We have eight sites for construction of new churches; four chapels have already been built.

Recently, on July 1-2 the town of Braslaw was hosting festivities in honor of the Mother of God of Budslaw with the participation of thousands of people, which occurs very rarely in this country. During five days a group of pilgrims from the Minsk Archcathedral was making their way to this place, from Baranavichy — even more days. For them it was not only a time of prayer and reasoning, but also of a testimony for other people.

The pilgrimages were very well organized, police were ahead of them, while following them were ambulances. What is impressive is the big amount of interest from youth who, on one hand, are living their own life, being the group most subjected to secularizing currents, while on the other, they are searching.

Between July 31 and Aug. 1, the town of Ivyanets was hosting a prayer meeting for youth. At the beginning I always present them with a certain topic, while afterward they ask queries. One needs to be well-prepared for that since there are questions that force me to do a good deal of thinking to answer. But I am very satisfied that young people pose these questions.

This year’s Corpus Christi procession in Minsk, organized along the central streets of the capital, gathered around 12,000 people. Altars were established at Victory Square, where the eternal fire burns, in front of the House of the Republic, near the Red Church and near the Most Holy Name of Mary Archcathedral. That all left a deep impression and was also a testimony. And authorities have nothing against it.

Today people are searching for faith, that’s why the Church cannot sleep — it must provide an answer to this demand in due time, otherwise it will be late.

It can be seen that those who attend church, who take part in services on a regular basis, possess stark faith that is increasing, because they are searching for answers to numerous questions proposed by the modern world. It can be seen that people read holy Scripture. In many parishes of the archdiocese, Bible courses are held, which enjoy big popularity among parishioners.

It can be seen that people’s faith is not superficial. What delights me is that it is based not only on the knowledge obtained from books — and today we have religious literature in Russian, Belarusian and Polish languages — but also on tradition.

I am a supporter of the combination of old and new. That “old” is extremely significant. Owing to such simple prayers as the rosary, people have preserved the faith and passed it on to the next generations. I myself learned the faith in such a way. At that time there were no catechists. An old woman gathered people and taught them. However, I saw my parents taking part in prayers. Though there was no priest, on Sundays we still would go to church. There was nobody near to celebrate a holy Mass, but we prayed litanies, the rosary, held the Way of the Cross.

This is what is insufficient these days. Parents don’t take their children to church. I once saw with what satisfaction parents were taking their child on a Sunday morning to the Palace of Sports to play hockey. This is a trendy kind of sport as the president goes in for it. But do parents take their child with the same energy to church? Unfortunately, not always.

Q: It was noted during Patriarch Kirill’s last visit to Ukraine that he was going to take the title of the Patriarch of Kyiv, thus showing that the Russian Orthodox Church is not only Russian, but has a universal character like the Roman Catholic Church. Are such tendencies felt in Belarus?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Many sources of mass media have spoken about that. Also, there are a number of interpretations. But did the patriarch himself speak about this? I personally didn’t hear such words. He even made a statement that he hadn’t had such an intention.

It is a known fact that there are 15 independent Orthodox Churches who acknowledge one another. For instance, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is not limited only to Turkey, its major part of believers reside in the USA. Its jurisdiction is where its followers live.

In Belarus there is no question of that, at least I haven’t heard anything. Belarus is a quiet republic. Relations with the Orthodox Church are very good and constructive, mutual aid is exercised in many areas, we jointly organize conferences, carry out charitable programs.

Q: Last year Patriarch Kirill visited Belarus. What are the odds that Benedict XVI will do the same?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: Nothing is yet known about this. The president and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference have sent their invitations. We need to wait for a reply from the Apostolic See. The Pope said: “If the Lord opens the doors for me, I will go through them.” We need to pray for these doors to open.

Q: Maybe it is connected with the Vatican concordat … at what stage is the work on this document?

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz: This document is being worked upon at the moment. I can’t say anything more because it is outside my competence. The apostolic nunciature is involved with this task. I bear hope this agreement will be signed. It doesn’t matter that here the question regards the concordat. It should be an agreement between Belarus and the Apostolic See.

[Interview and translation provided by the bishops’ conference of Belarus.]
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