‘Despite change, the Church remains’: Emotional farewell Mass for Archbishop Kondrusiewicz

Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz in Baranovichi 1 Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. / Raviaka Ruslan/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said at a farewell Mass on Sunday that the Church would remain a source of strength for Catholics in Belarus despite a change in leadership. 

The departing archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev also promised that he would remain an active bishop at the Jan. 24 Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary in the capital, Minsk.

Pope Francis accepted Kondrusiewicz's resignation on Jan. 3, his 75th birthday, shortly after the archbishop was permitted to return to Belarus after a four-month enforced exile.

"Changing a bishop after he reaches the age of 75 is a normal thing," Kondrusiewicz said, according to Catholic.by, the website of the Catholic Church in Belarus. "I leave as a ruling bishop, but as a bishop I remain."

"It is important that, despite the change of bishops, the Church remains, operates and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

On the same day that he accepted the archbishop's resignation, the pope named Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec as apostolic administrator of Minsk-Mohilev archdiocese. 

Wielikosielec, a 75-year-old member of the Dominican order, is the auxiliary bishop of Pinsk diocese. He is expected to lead the archdiocese until the pope appoints a permanent successor to Kondrusiewicz. 

Local media reports said that both Kondrusiewicz and the congregation were visibly moved during the Mass, which formally marked the end of Kondrusiewicz's tenure in Minsk-Mohilev, which began in 2007.

The archbishop thanked those present for their support after he was denied re-entry to Belarus on Aug. 31 after a trip to Poland.

He had spoken out after a disputed presidential election on Aug. 3 led to nationwide protests. The incumbent, Alexander Lukashenko, claimed victory with 80% of the vote. But demonstrators took to the streets calling for the resignation of the strongman who has ruled the country since 1994.

The protests have continued into 2021, with police arresting around 100 demonstrators on Jan. 23, according to the Associated Press.

Before his trip to Poland, Kondrusiewicz, president of the Belarusian bishops' conference, prayed outside of a prison where detained protesters were reportedly tortured and demanded an investigation into reports that riot police blocked the doors of a Catholic church in Minsk while clearing away protesters from a nearby square. 

The authorities claimed that he was turned away at the border because his passport was "invalid," inviting him to appeal against the decision. 

The Vatican tried to overcome the impasse by sending Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's equivalent of a foreign minister, to Belarus in September to discuss the situation with Belarusian officials. But the talks did not result in an immediate breakthrough.

After months of further Vatican diplomatic activity, Kondrusiewicz was permitted to return to his homeland on Dec. 24.

At the Mass in Minsk, the archbishop apologized to anyone he might have offended, saying that he had tried only to serve the Church and work for the salvation of souls. 

He said that he would continue to take part in meetings of the Belarusian bishops' conference, as well as celebrate Masses and participate in pastoral activities. 

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He introduced Wielikosielec to the congregation, asking Catholics in the archdiocese to welcome him warmly.

The apostolic administrator reflected in his homily on the day's first reading, in which the inhabitants of Nineveh converted after listening to the prophet Jonah.

"Quo vadis? Where are you going, Belarus? If we want to save our country, we must follow Jesus' call to believe in the Gospel and be converted," he said, according to Catholic.by. 

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