KARAGANDA, Kazakhstan — A Vatican official has beatified a Polish-born priest deported to Soviet-ruled Central Asia who volunteered to stay on and minister to Catholics.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, said Father Wladyslaw Bukowinski, who died in 1974, prayed to overcome “fear, hunger and violence, continuing his service at risk of being arrested and sent back to the gulag.”
“His trials before Soviet courts and his time in labor camps gave him a pulpit for witness and evangelization, from which he taught love of God and neighbor, showing how faith could bring down walls,” Amato said during the Sept. 11 beatification Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Cathedral.
He said the priest had been a “courageous missionary of Christ in distant lands of Eastern Europe” and found “safety through faith in God and divine providence” at a time of religious persecution and “physical and moral suffering.”
Born in 1904 at Berdychiv, now in Ukraine, Bukowinski studied law and theology in Krakow, Poland, where he was ordained in 1931. He was arrested by the Soviet secret police as a “Vatican agent” in 1940.
After a decade ministering to prisoners and forced laborers in Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan, he voluntarily sought Soviet citizenship in 1954 to continue his work and became the first Catholic priest for two decades to visit German-speaking Catholics in neighboring Tajikistan.
Rearrested in 1958 for running “illegal Catholic assemblies,” he spent three years in Siberia before returning to Karaganda, where he continued ministering until his death.
The beatification Mass, concelebrated by bishops from Russia and Poland, was attended by Father Mariusz Kowalski, whose unexplained cure from a brain hemorrhage at Karaganda in 2008 was attributed to the intercession of Bukowinski.
Amato said the priest had always been convinced “Russia would return to Christ” and had viewed his own arrest and deportation as providential events enabling him to reach “places of suffering.”
In a Sept. 11 Angelus message in Rome, Pope Francis said Bukowinski “always showed great love for the weakest and neediest,” despite being “persecuted for his faith.”