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History of Christianity in Belarus

10th century: Princess Olga was baptized. In 959 Olga addressed to the King of Germany Aton I with the request to ordain a bishop and priests for her people. The King submitted the land of Polatsk Slavs to the power of Bishop Adaldag. The bishopric of the Polatsk Princedom was established in 992.

The first prince of Polatsk mentioned in annals Rahvalod and his daughter Rahneda were Christians. Rahneda became a nun and took the name of Anastasia. She founded a cloister not far from Zaslauye (Minsk region).

End of the 10th - beginning of the 11th century: St. Bruno Boniface together with St. Adalbert preached Evangel to pagans and was killed by them in 1009 somewhere on the border of Lithuania and Russia, nowadays the south-west of Belarus. A Russian king buried the saint's body and erected a temple on the place of his tomb.

Between 1008 and 1013: Prince Sviatapolk married the daughter of the Prince of Polatsk (future King Balaslau Chrabry). The Roman rite bishopric was created in the Turau Princedom under Bishop Rainbern.

1186: The bishopric of Riga was established. It had influenced greatly on the religious situation of the neighbouring Belarusian land. Christian was the first bishop of the part of Belarusian and Lithuanian land. His cathedra was probably situated in Navagrudak. The Holy See signed the privilege of submission of the newly created bishopric directly to the Pope. Thus it received the rights of archbishopric.

Between 1300 and 1316: The Orthodox metropolitanate of Lithuania was erected with the center in Navagrudak, it was submitted to Constantinople. In the 14th century the development of the Roman rite Christianity in Belarus had waned but hadn't stopped at all.

Great Kings Algerd and Keistus who reigned together (1345-1377) didn't interfere with Catholicism. One of Keitus' sons became Catholic. Tradition has it that many Franciscans arrived in Vilnius at that time and 14 of them dyed as martyrs.

End of the 14th century: The power was divided between Vitaut and Yagayla. In 1385 the Kingdom of Poland and the Great Kingdom of Lithuania (GKL) concluded political treaty of alliance known as the Union of Kreva, according to which Yagayla had to marry the Queen of Poland and became King. Yagayla promised to receive baptism of the Roman rite and to baptize pagans of GKL. In 1386 he was baptized, took the name of Uladislau and was crowned. Thus he gave the origin to the royal dynasty of the Yagellons. Within the present borders of Belarus about 20 churches were built under the reign of Vitaut and Yagayla. In 1386 Vitaut managed to renew the privilege of the Holy See, given to King Mindoug, according to which the Catholic Church in GKL submitted directly to Rome.

15th century: This is the time of the further quantitative and qualitative spread of the Catholic Church in the Great Kingdom of Lithuania. At the end of the century there were about 150 parishes. Convents increased in number as well.

The 16th century: From the 1520s Protestantism began to penetrate to the Great Kingdom of Lithuania. It strengthened its positions till the middle of the century. In 1569 the Kingdom of Poland and the Great Kingdom of Lithuania signed the act of the Union of Lublin. Jesuits joined the struggle with Protestants and started to found their collegia. Among them there were two university centers: Jesuits' Academies in Vilnius (1579-1773) and in Polatsk (1812-1820). In 1596 the union of Catholic and Orthodox churches was announced in Brest. The majority of the Orthodox population of Lithuania-Belarus joined the union.

Beginning of the 17th century: That was the time of active building of churches and convents. The century is marked by the death of Bishop Josaphat Kuntsevich (1623) in Vitebsk who was later canonized as martyr. In 1720 Catholic bishops were appointed for the eastern Belarus - in Mohilev, Mstislau and Orsha. Uniats averaged 80 per cent of the population, Catholics - 15 per cent. The territory of Belarus numbered about 240 Roman Catholic parishes with 430 thousands of believers. In 1773 Queen Catherine II created the diocese of Belarus without any permission of the Holy See. By means of long negotiations in 1783 the archbishopric of Mohilev was erected which subjected all the Catholic dioceses of the Russian Empire. In 1798 the diocese of Minsk appeared.

19th century: That was the time of national and religious persecution of Belarusians by the Russian Empire that lasted above 200 years. After the forcible union with Russia due to the last division of the territory of Belarus in 1795 almost all the Catholic convents and educational centers were closed between 1830-1870. In 1839 the Church Union was abolished. The population was being forcibly converted into the Orthodox religion. The period of cruel national and religious persecution began. In 1869 the diocese of Minsk was abolished: at first its territory became part of the diocese of Vilnius, then in 1883 it joined the diocese of Mohilev. Czarist regime interfered by all means with religious life of Catholics.

After the revolution in 1905 Catholic Church activity had revived for some time. Some parishes reappeared as well as the diocese of Minsk in 1917. But in the 1920s religious policy was changed again and the territory of Belarus was divided between Poland and Russia in 1921, the activity of the archbishopric of Mohilev and the bishopric of Minsk was completely paralysed. In 1923 Archbishop Tseplak was condemned and repressed. In 1926-1936 P. E. Nevio performed head functions of the archbishopric of Mohilev. In 1921 the bishop of Minsk Zigmund Lazinsky was arrested and had to leave for the western Belarus that was part of Poland then. Later Bp. Zigmund Lazinsky became head of the diocese of Pinsk created on the basis of the western part of the former diocese of Minsk. The wave of repressions against the Catholic Church and the clergy was at its high in 1939. Almost all the temples were closed and there were no single priest in the 10 formally unclosed. A great number of priests had been slain, others had been constantly persecuted. The Belarusian language was eliminated from religious use.

During the World War II in the Belarus occupied by Germany the Catholic Church was partly revived, but after the war repressions became even stronger. After Stalin's death the persecution of Catholics was reduced but didn't cease. Nevertheless in such difficult conditions religious life was little by little reviving.

July 25, 1989: Thaddeus Kondrusievich was ordained bishop and was appointed by the Holy See to the post of Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Minsk for Catholics in Belarus. Major Seminary was opened in Grodno.

April 13, 1991: Thaddeus Kondrusievich was nominated archbishop and Apostolic Administrator for the Roman Catholics of the European part of Russia with residence in Moscow. That day two other bishops were ordained: Kazimir Sviontek who became bishop of the newly created archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev and Apostolic Administrator of the renewed diocese of Pinsk, and Alexander Kashkevich who became Ordinary Bishop of the diocese of Grodno.

July 5, 1991: There appeared the metropolitan commission for translation of liturgical texts and religious literature into the Belarusian language. The commission has already prepared for publishing the main liturgical texts and other materials.

May 18, 1994: The Holy See appointed Archbishop Agostino Marchetto to the post of Apostolic Nuncio for Catholics in Belarus. On November 26 Kazimir Sviontek was created Cardinal.

April 15, 1996: Archbishop Dominik Grushovsky became Apostolic Nuncio in Belarus.

1994: There appeared the Catholic magazines: Dialogue (the diocese of Pinsk) and Ave Maria (the archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev). In 1995 the first numbers of the quarterly magazine Our Faith and monthly information bulletin Catholic News were published.

1998-1999 гг. The Holy See appointed auxiliary bishops for the dioceses of Grodno and Pinsk as well as for the archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev.

September 29, 1998: Antony Dzemianko was ordained bishop in Grodno.

June 24, 1999: Kazimir Velikaselets was ordained bishop in Pinsk. On December 4 Kiril Klimovich was ordained bishop in Minsk.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops was erected, the first meeting of which took place on February 11, 1999. Kazimir Sviontek was elected head of the Conference.

September 30, 2000: The first postwar synod of the archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev and the dioceses of Vitebsk and Pinsk finished its work. It lasted four years. The synod worked out the Church Statutes concerning its main activities.

The number of parishes and believers is growing, churches are being restoring, new ones are being built. Belarusian becomes the language of Catholics' religious life.

May 13, 2002: The religious quarterly magazine for children Little Knight of the Immaculate was registered.

August 21, 2004: Cardinal Kazimir Swiontek, Archbishop of Minsk-Mahilyow, was presented by publishers with an edition of “Roman Imschal” in Belarusian language, the main Liturgical book for celebration of the Holy Eucharist. On that occasion Holy Father John Paul II in a special letter dated October 27th expressed gratitude to His Eminence. It was the first approved edition of the “Roman Imshal” in Belarusian and the first edition of its third revision in the national language.

September 15, 2004: The Holy Father appointed official of the State secretariat His Grace Monsig. Martin Vidovic Apostolic nuncio to Belarus, simultaneously assigning him to titular Archbishop of Nona. On January 21st the newly-appointed nuncio arrived in Minsk.

September 27, 2004: Holy Father John Paul II presented Cardinal Kazimir Swiontek, Archbishop of Minsk-Mahilyow with a special award “Fidei testis” (Witness of faith), conferred by the Pope Paul VI Institute in Brescia (Italy).

October 23-24, 2004: Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Truhilio, Head of the Pope Council for family matters, paid a visit to Belarus on invitation from Head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Belarus Cardinal Kazimir Swiontek.

December 14, 2004: Pope John Paul II appointed His Excellency Bishop Antoni Dziamjanka, titular Bishop of Lesvi, to the post of auxiliary bishop for Minsk-Mahilyow Archdiocese, releasing him from responsibilities of auxiliary bishop of Hrodna diocese.

April 2, 2005: At 21:37 European time in Rome Pope John Paul II left for eternity. During the holy mass for the repose of the Pope’s soul, cardinal Sodano in front of 130 thousand believers and numerous official representatives called John Paul II “great”, as only saint pontiffs are called. On the morning of April 8th a funeral service took place and on midday the coffin with the body of John Paul II was taken to St. Peter’s basilica crypt, which until 2000 had been the place for John ХХІІІ’s sepulcher, and which was subsequently transferred to the basilica after his beatification. In accordance with the last will and testament, John Paul II was buried in the ground without sarcophagus. The service of Pope John Paul II, which lasted for 26 years, became the longest pontificate in the XX century and the third longest one in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. This pontificate was also fruitful in terms of other aspects (e.g. according to the number of Pope’s foreign pilgrimages — 104 and the number of visited countries — 129). 14 Papal encyclics were published. During the pontificate of John Paul II 148 beatification and 51 canonizing processes were carried out (1343 persons were declared blessed and 482 saint). For the last 455 years he was the first successor of St. Peter of non Italic origin and the first Pope of Slavic background.

April 19, 2005: Following the results of the fourth round of voting of 115 cardinals who assembled in the Sistine Chapel, Cardinal Jozef Ratzinger was elected the new 265th Pope and accepted the name of Benedict XVI. On April 24th the newly-elected Pontiff was inaugurated.

May 13 2005: The Holy Father Benedict XVI publicly declared opening of the beatification process for John Paul II by giving a special permission (dispence) not to wait till the necessary five years from the day of death of the Servant of God pass.

December 10 2005: Consecration of the reconstructed altar and new organs, as well as coronation of the Icon of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, blessed and presented to our Church by John Paul II, took place in Minsk Blessed Virgin Mary Archcathedral. The solemn divine service was held by Cardinal Kazimir Swiontek, Metropolitan of Minsk-Mahilyow, together with all Belarusian bishops, a representative from episcopate of Austria and numerous priests from various dioceses of Belarus. The event marked the end of an important phase in the revival of the main Catholic shrine of Belarus.

June 14, 2006: Press service of the Apostolic Capital informed that the Holy Father Benedict XVI had accepted renunciation of vicarial administration of Minsk-Mahiloyw Archdiocese, submitted by His Eminence Cardinal Kazimir Swiontek, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law, can. 401, §1.

At the same time the Pontiff appointed His Excellency Antoni Dziamjanka, titular Bishop of Lesvi and auxiliary bishop of Minsk-Mahilyow, to hold the post of Apostolic Administrator sede vacante and ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of the named Metropolitan capital.

His Eminence Cardinal Kazimir Swiontek, Ret. Archbishop of Minsk and Mahilyow, was henceforth entrusted to fulfil duties of Pinsk Apostolic Administrator ad nutum Sanctae Sedis.

Additionally, on June 14, 2006 at completion of the XXIX Plenary session of Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Belarus Cardinal Kazimir Swiontek requested to dismiss him from the position of Chairman of the above-mentioned Conference for the reason he was no more diocesan bishop (par. Code of Canon law, can. 376).
During the plenary session the post of the Chairmen was consigned to His Excellency Aliaksandr Kashkevich, Bishop of Hrodna, who had been Deputy Chairman before. The post of Deputy Chairman was entrusted to His Excellency Wladislaw Blin, Bishop of Vitebsk.

July, 5 2006: The oldest Catholic shrine in Minsk (XIV cent.) – the Holy Trinity Church (St. Roch Church) on Zalataja Horka was given back to believers. It was a historic occasion which had been anticipated by Minsk Catholics for fifteen years.

November 29-30, 2006: The Holy Father Benedict XVI paid a visit to Turkey and met with Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomeus II. That important event in terms of development of ecumenical dialogue ended in accepting a joint declaration.

The continuation of that dialog was a meeting between the Holy Father with Archbishop of Athens and all Greece Christodul on December 14, 2006 in the Vatican City, during which the hierarchs signed a joint ecumenical declaration.

June 14-16, 2007: The 35th meeting of Secretaries General of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe took place in Minsk to discuss the topic “Migration — challenge for Europe”. The participants had a chance to meet with Orthodox Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk Filaret, Patriarchal Exarch of all Belarus. Holy masses were held in different parishes of Minsk so that the participants could get acquainted with life of believers and status of the Church in Belarus closer.

September 21, 2007: The Holy Father Benedict XVI released Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz from vicarial management of Mother of God parish in Moscow and appointed him Archbishop Metropolitan of Minsk-Mahilyow. During the ceremonial ingress — the ceremony of canonic accession to office of Metropolitan of Minsk and Mahilyow, which occurred on November 10, 2007 in Minsk Archcathedral Catholic Church with participation of a big number of clergy and worshipers, the Apostolic Letter about the appointment of His Excellency Archbishop to that position as well as the first decrees of the newly-appointed Metropolitan were announced. According to one of them, Bishop Antoni Dziamjanka was appointed General Vicar of Minsk-Mahilyow Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in the Republic of Belarus.

March 1, 2008: At 18.00 o’clock in the Blessed Virgin Mary Archcathedral in Minsk on the occasion of the VI European Student Day a prayer space bridge was set up, which for the first time in history of the Catholic Church in Belarus connected Minsk and the Apostolic Capital. The space bridge is organized annually during the Lent to unite in a rosary prayer youth from different corners of the world with the Holy Father. The following words became the motto of the space bridge: “Europe and Americas together for construction of a civilization of love”.

March 6, 2007: The Holy Father met with the Ecumenical Patriarch. That event was another step on the way to Christian unity. The Hierarchs prayed together in the Vatican Apostolic palace.

May 19, 2008: Siarhei Aleinik, the newly-appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to the Holy See, presented letters of credence to the Holy Father Benedict XVI. During the ceremony the pontific noted the important role of Belarus in integration of Europe and in ecumenical process.

June 18-22, 2008: Cardinal Tarcizio Bertone, Secretary of State to His Holiness Benedict XVI, paid a visit to Belarus. During the stay of the high-ranking Catholic hierarch very important meetings with President of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk Filaret, Patriarchal Exarch of all Belarus, as well with a number of representatives of the state machine were organized.  Such important issues as mutual relations between the Church and the state, erection of new temples, coexistence of Christian faiths in our country, as well as diplomatic relations were touched upon. The parties managed to reach an agreement to start prepare a Convention between the Holy See and the Republic of Belarus. Apart from that, through the mediation of State Secretary of the Pope of Rome, President of the Republic of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenka sent to His Holiness Benedict XVI an invitation to visit Belarus. His Eminence cardinal Tarcisio Bertone met with professors and students of Belarusian State University, where he delivered a lecture “Faith and reason: how a modern person should talk about God”, visited and celebrated holy masses in Catholic shrines of Pinsk and Hrodna and a solemn Liturgy in Minsk Archcathedral Church, consecrated a corner stone of a Catholic temple in Sierabranka district. The visit of the State Secretary to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was welcomed by Belarusian believers with great enthusiasm. “The Pope loves you and prays for you”. These words, said by His Eminence while meeting with youth after the ceremony of consecration of the corner stone, express the essence of spiritual link between the Apostolic Capital and the local Church and its believers.

June 19, 2008: On St. Peter and Paul Day in St. Peter’s basilica in Rome Metropolitan of Minsk-Mahilyow Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was presented by Benedict XVI with a pallium — an element of liturgical vestments in the form of a narrow tape from white sheep wool with black woolen crosses embroidered upon it; on the ends — with slices of lead trimmed with black silk. Only the Holy Father Himself (during each Liturgy) and the hierarchs of the Church, marked with especial honour, have the right to wear a pallium (the latter, however, can do it only during big feasts). Pope Benedict XVI headed a solemn Liturgy in St. Peter’s basilica, which was concelebrated together with the newly appointed metropolitans. The celebration was attended by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. The Holy Father together with the spiritual leader of all Orthodox believers delivered a homily. The two hierarchs also preached together the Sacrament of Faith and gave blessings.

September 28, 2008: The Diocese of Minsk-Mahilyow received 7 relics of Pr. Michal Sopocko, whose beatification was held in Bialystok (Poland). The relics were transferred to those parishes of the diocese, which were connected with life and activity of the blessed: the Minsk Archcathedral Church, the Mahilyow Archcathedral Church, Zabrezze parish, St. Joseph parish in Valozhyn, Lebedzeva parish, Barysaw parish, and Babruisk parish.

February 2009: On the initiative and under the auspices of Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Metropolitan of Minsk-Mahilyow, the first translation of the II Vatican Council Documents was published, which was done by the Section for Translation of Liturgical Texts and Official Documents of the Church at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Belarus.

April 27, 2009: Holy Father Benedict XVI gave an audience to the President of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

July 4—5: The town of Trakeli (the Diocese of Hrodna) hosted solemnities timed to the Coronation of the Icon of the Mother of God of Trakeli. The papal crowns on the wonder-working icon were laid by Cardinal Kazimierz Swiontak.

August 4, 2009: St. Simon and Alena Church in Minsk hosted the first all-Belarusian meeting of priests.

August 22, 2009: Archbishop Joachim Meisner of Köln crowned with the papal crowns the miracle-working Icon of the Mother of God, Queen of the Lakes.

October 10, 2009: Consecration of Jesus the Merciful Church in Vitebsk, the first Catholic shrine for the past 125 years in that city. The consecration ceremony was headed by Archbishop Martin Vidavic, Apostolic Nuncio to Belarus.

October 21, 2009: Cardinal Kazimierz Swiontak, one of the world’s most aged hierarchs, marked his 95th birthday anniversary.

October 25, 2009: Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was accepted in the ranks of the Maltese Order.

November 8—10, 2009: Cardinal Walter Kasper, Head of the Pontifical Council for Promotion of Christian Unity, visited Belarus on the invitation of Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus. Within the framework of his visit the hierarch from the Vatican consecrated new stations in the Minsk Archcathedral, took part in a conference dedicated to Christian-Judaic dialogue, and met with Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

December 11—17, 2009: Catholic Bishops of Belarus paid their third аd limina visit to the Apostolic Capital. On December 17 the Holy Father granted an audience to the high-ranking Catholic clergy from Belarus.

 

 

Bibliography

    Ales Zhlutka. Sketches of Great Way
    Attempt of brief summery of the Catholic Church history in Belarus.
    “NASHA VERA” magazine, №1 (14) 2001 and news archive of www.catholic. by
 
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