Letter #11, 2017: Meet an Extraordinary Man This Week in DC

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March 19, 2017, Sunday — Meet an Extraordinary Man This Week in Washington D.C.

Meet an Extraordinary Archbishop this Week in Washington D.C.

“His name is Thaddeus”

An extraordinary archbishop got on an airplane today in the the former East bloc to fly to Washington D.C. He will land in D.C. tonight.

His name is Thaddeus Kondrusiewicz (spelled Tadeusz in his native Belarussian), and he is a Roman Catholic archbishop who has served, metaphorically speaking, “in the shadow of the Kremlin” for more than 25 years to preach the Christian faith.

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He will be in Washington and New York City this week, and will give a free lecture, open to the public, on Wednesday, March 22 at 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. at The Catholic University of America, just next to the National Shrine of the Basilica of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

The lecture title will be “Christian Traditions in Belarus and the Proposal to Create a Catholic University in Minsk.”

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The lecture subtitle is: “Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz has played a leading role in ministering to the Roman Catholic faithful in countries that were formerly part of the USSR. For 16 years he served as the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Moscow (1991-2007). For the last 10 years he has been the Archbishop of Minsk in Belarus. In his talk, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz will speak about Christian traditions in the culture and history of Belarus and about modern business education in postindustrial society in the context of a proposal to create a Catholic university in Minsk.”

The lecture will be held in the Pryzbyla Great Room B in the Pryzbyla Center at Catholic University. For more details contact:

Center for Cultural Engagement
207 Pryzbyla University Center
Catholic University of America
Washington, DC

Phone: 202-319-5637
Email: CulturalEngagement@cua.edu

Here is a link to a page with an announcement of the lecture: (link).

Memories of Kondrusiewicz

jpeg-1Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, 71 grew up in the Soviet Union. He was born in 1946 in Grodno, Belarus.

He studied mechanical engineering in the Polytechnic Institute in Leningrad during the “Soviet time” (he invented high-speed grinding equipment used in the vast Volga automobile factory, link), then, upon returning home and learning that his mother had been praying that he might become a priest, he had a change of heart and entered the seminary in Kaunas, Lithuania, to study for the priesthood.

He was ordained on May 31, 1981, at the age of 35.

He became a close and trusted friend of Pope St. John Paul II, who chose Kondrusiewicz personally to be his “man in Moscow” following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

During the central 16 years of his life, from age 45 to 61 (1991 to 2007), at first alone in a small Moscow apartment, with no Curia or staff, Kondrusiewicz was the Archbishop of the Diocese of Mary, Mother of God in Moscow.

With extraordinary patience and strength of will, together with Bishop Joseph Werth in Novosibirsk (Siberia), and then two other bishops as well (there are four Catholic bishops in Russia, where Catholics number an estimate 500,000, while the Russian Orthodox are the vast majority of Christian believers), Kondrusiewicz rebuilt the structures of the Catholic Church in Russia.

Since 2007, for the past 10 years, he has been the archbishop of Minsk, in the nation of Belarus, which is tucked in between Poland and Russia (“bela” means “white” in Russian, so the name of the country means “White Russia”).

“How do you have the strength do continue this work, in such freezing temperatures?” I asked Kondrusiewicz once, when I visited him in Moscow one February and the temperature was well below zero every day (I wore two ski parkas, one under the other, to try to stay warm).

“I am a soldier,” Kondrusiewicz replied, in his low, Russian-accented voice, with a little chuckle.

When I shook his hand, he looked directly into my eyes and said, “You are an American — a great country. Let’s see how strong your handshake is…”

And he began to squeeze my hand, staring into my eyes, until my knuckles came together and began to sting. I have never shaken hands with any bishop with as strong a grip, and among Churchmen I have met, only Monsignor Aldo Tolotto, an Italian priest who was a missionary for 40 years to the Bedouins of Arabia before serving for a decade as the director of the Domus Santa Marta (where Pope Francis now lives) has a similarly strong handshake.

Kondrusiewicz’ name, Thaddeus, is from the Greek Θαδδαῖος, Thaddaios, and from the Aramaic תדי, Taddai / Aday). It is a male name meaning “a heart” or “courageous heart.”

So, in a very real sense, in Thaddeus Kondrusiewicz, we have a true “Archbishop Braveheart” — a courageous warrior of the faith chosen by John Paul II to bear witness to Christ in a country where atheism had been official state policy for 70 years.

And Tadeusz carried out his task, in the most trying of circumstances, in frigid weather, with inadequate resources, never once complaining, like a soldier to whom a great mission has been committed.

And this, in this 100th year since the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, brings to mind the message of Fatima: that, in the end, Russia would “be converted,” and that, through such a conversion, a “period of peace” would be granted to our world.

In a time when Russia is in the news every day, when we have difficulty knowing what news is “fake” and what is true, few figures, perhaps, could be of more interest to Catholics in helping us to understand the context of our present cultural and religious situation vis a vis the former Soviet space than Archbishop Kondrusiewicz.

If there is anyone who incarnates the mystery of the message of Fatima, that the faith would be suppressed in Russia, and would then return in that great country, it is arguably Kondrusiewicz.

One day in Rome, more than 15 years ago now, on a May evening, I went out for a stroll on via della Conciliazione, the large street that leads right up to St. Peter’s Square. On this beautiful evening, I saw a figure walking towards me, his head slightly bent as if in thought or prayer. I hardly wanted to disturb him. But then I recognized him. I saw it was Tadeusz, also out strolling on this Roman night. He was visiting the Eternal City to consult with John Paul.

Eccellenza!” I said, trying to draw his attention with a little wave of my hand.

Kondrusiewicz looked up and into my eyes, and said, smiling wryly, as if he were reporting a fact that would be self-explanatory, only two words: “Sto pregando.”

“I am praying.”

Meaning he could not stop to speak with me.

And then he looked down towards his strong, gnarled, powerful hands. My eyes followed his look, and I saw his rosary beads…

He was praying his rosary.

I nodded, understanding that he could not stop and talk, and he walked on, intent as always on the task before him…

If you cannot attend the event on Wednesday, but would like to support the work of Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, please email me.

This event is being sponsored in part by the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, a project of the non-profit publisher of Inside the Vatican magazine aimed at helping to “build bridges” between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Please consider coming to Catholic University on Wednesday evening, March 22, to meet Archbishop Kondrusiewicz. I also will be there. The event is open to the public and free of charge. It begins at 5 p.m.

If you plan to attend, please send me an email, so I will know to greet you and introduce you to the Archbishop.

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

 

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