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BY Jim Cosgrove
After reading the article “Vatican Spies' Book Chronicles Church's Suffering in Soviet Union” (Register, Jan. 3-9, 1999), I am obliged to write and set the facts straight. The author says the following among other things: “The Catholic Church's Mohilev archdiocese, based at St. Petersburg, was home to 1.5 million mostly ethnic Polish Catholics in 1917.” Nonsense!!! … Our Belarusan people in those days were divided into Polish and Russians, not according to their nationality, but to their religious backgrounds. This was done by the hierarchs of Moscow and Warsaw. The so-called “ethnic Polish Catholics” were in the minority in Belarus. …
There is a mention in the article of Father Fabian Abrantovic … and of Father Hieronim Cerpento … The above two priests were not the only ones who served God and their own Belarusans and other Catholics with great piety and dedication, who suffered for their devotion to Jesus Christ. To our knowledge the following should be also counted as victims of communist repressions: Jazep Hermanovic, Anton Laskievic, Zachar Kavalou, Kuzma Najlovic, Fama Padziava, Adam Stankievic, brother Anton Aniskievic and many others like Archimandrite Andrej Cikota. …
There are some Polish sources who claim that there are 1.5 million Poles in Belarus today. Wrong!!! There were three repatriations of the Polish people from Belarus after World War II and the majority of them left for Poland and settled in the regions that Poland regained from Germany after World War II. …
The “Polish Catholics” in Belarus today speak the Belarusan language at home and use the Polish language to pray in churches. They are called “The Sunday Poles” by the Belarusan Uniate and Orthodox people. The Polish priests, who were sent from Poland on a mission to Belarus, are making all efforts to turn the Belarusan Roman Catholics into Poles again. The Polish and Russian hierarchs in Belarus are trying to Polonize and Russianize the Belarusan people again today as they did it in the past when the tsars were in power.
Thank you for letting me speak the truth.
Bielarusian Coordinating Committee Chicago
Editor's note: There is room for argument about how many Catholics in Belarus are Polish and how many are Belarusan because the question of nationality and ethnicity is a highly tangled one historically. Most of the citizens who can point to original Polish family connections now identify themselves as Belarusans to all intents and purposes, though many of them want their part-Polish identity to be acknowledged. The question is, however, a hot political issue right now, clouded even more by propaganda from the Lukashenka regime. In particular, the idea that Polish priests are trying to “re-Polonize” Belarus Catholics seems to originate with the government, which has an interest in stirring up tensions with Poland.