Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic World News

Pope takes step toward reviving Eastern Catholic church persecuted by czar, Stalin

March 31, 2023

On March 30, Pope Francis established an apostolic administration for the faithful of the Byzantine rite in Belarus, and in doing so granted a measure of ecclesial stability to Belarusian Greek Catholics, who have long been without a hierarchy of their own.

The establishment of an apostolic administration sometimes precedes the establishment of a diocese or eparchy.

Belarus, an Eastern European nation of 9.4 million (map), is 80% Christian (65% Orthodox, 12% Catholic). Most Catholics are Latin-rite Catholics.

The Belarusian Greek Catholic Church (CNEWA profile), an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See, arose from the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596. Czar Nicholas I suppressed the church in 1839 and forcibly joined it to the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2019, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches described Belarusian Greek Catholics as “Eastern Catholics without a hierarchy” (p. IV).

In its March 30 announcement, the Holy See Press Office explained:

In 1798, the eparchy of Minsk (of the Ruthenians) was erected, which, in 1839, was impeded, but was never suppressed. The Pontifical Yearbook mentioned it until 1924. In 1939 the Belarusian Exarchate was erected by Metropolitan Andriy Sheptysky, archbishop of Lviv, who was confirmed as apostolic administrator by Pope Pius XII in 1941. This office remained vacant in 1943.

CNEWA explains that “after World War I, a community of about 30,000 Greek Catholics emerged in areas of Belarus that had been annexed by Poland. An Apostolic Visitator was appointed for them in 1931, and an Exarch in 1940. After World War II, when the area was absorbed by the Soviet Union, the church was again suppressed and integrated into the Russian Orthodox Church.”

“In 1988, the faithful began to reorganize, continuing with the civil registration of parishes,” the Holy See Press Office announcement continued. In 1993, Pope St. John Paul II appointed Father Jan Sergiusz Gajek, MIC, as apostolic visitor for Byzantine-rite Belarusian Catholics.

Three decades later, Pope Francis has named Father (now Archimandrite) Gajek, now 74, as leader of the new apostolic administration. The jurisdiction has 5,000 laity, 16 parishes, 16 priests, three deacons, and four seminarians.


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