The new apostolic administrator of Minks was auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Pinsk and he turned 75 last May. He too is a witness of the “silent” Church of the Soviet years. He attended clandestine seminaries and was a personal friend of the former Metropolitan of Minsk-Mogilev. He kept the faith of several villages alive, touring three Russian provinces to meet and support the faithful. He committed himself to reconstruction, to the fall of communism.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – On January 3, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Metropolitan of Minsk-Mogilev, on the same day he reached the canonical age of 75. In his place he appointed as administrator of the archdiocese, Msgr. Kazimierz Wielikoselec, auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Pinsk, who turned 75 last May. The circumstance greatly surprised the Belarusian faithful.
Wielikoselec also resigned last year according to custom, but the pope allowed him to remain in service for another two years, as is usually granted to resigning bishops who are still in good health. In the case of Kondrusiewicz’s resignation, very delicate mechanisms came into play, such as the need to please the authorities in order to return the archbishop to his homeland, replacing him with a figure who echoes his symbolic meaning.
In fact, Kazimierz Wielikoselec is also a witness of the “silent” Church of the Soviet years, like the former archbishop of Minsk. The new administrator was born in May 1945, a few days before the great Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War (as World War II is called here), in the village of Starovolja in the Pruzhank region, in the Belovezheskaya Pusha forest that divides Belarus from Poland, an area of great Catholic tradition. His father accompanied him every Sunday to the nearest open church, which was sixty kilometres from home, in the village of Kobrin; they went by bicycle and had to leave at two in the morning, to be able to reach the only Mass at 8 in the morning. As he himself told on the website of the cathlic.by diocese, his vocation was born during those night trips, on the saddle of the bike.
Kazimierz managed to keep his faith in the difficult context of atheist propaganda, which was particularly aggressive in Belarus. At the end of the 1950s, the secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khruščev promised that this would be the first Soviet republic completely freed from all memory of religion. The young Catholic served in the army for the then mandatory two years, and later worked as a welder in the construction of one of the first supermarkets in Vilnius, Lithuania, planning to enrol in medical school.
Studying as a doctor now seemed an obligatory path: his desire to enter the seminary – the only one then open to everyone in Riga, Latvia, in addition to that of Kaunas for Lithuanians – had been frustrated by a repeated refusal for three consecutive years. In the meantime, Kazimierz had however begun to prepare for the priesthood in the “underground seminary” run by Lithuanian priests throughout the Soviet Union, and in particular in Belarus. In these difficult circumstances, he met his peer Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who had managed to become a priest before him, and helped him by providing him with the necessary religious literature.
In 1981 Kazimierz then managed to enter the Riga seminary, and was admitted directly to the third year. After ordination in 1984, at the hands of Cardinal Julijans Vaivods (then still in pectore), he was able to serve in the parish of the village of Ishkold in the Baranoviči region, despite all the difficulties coming from the authorities, in one of the few ancient churches still remained standing, dating from the fifteenth century. As it happened in those years, due to the lack of priests, Father Kazimierz went around the villages of three neighbouring regions, to be able to reach the scattered Catholics in some way, and to keep the existing churches active, and then dedicate himself to their reconstruction immediately after the end of communism.
Msgr. Wielikoselec was consecrated bishop in the diocese of Pinsk, in 1999, after joining the Dominican Order in secret, very active in the rebirth of the Church in the former Soviet Union, and as a non-titular bishop he toured the country, helping the dioceses that reopened after the long period of persecutions. He became a shepherd loved by all. Alongside Kondrusiewicz and the other bishops and priests, he will long remain a sure guide for Catholics and all people of good will, in these times of suffering and change.