06/21/2021, 11.20
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Catholic church restored in Siberia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, in 2018 a fire had reduced it to ashes.  Founded in 1898 by Polish deportees.  First destroyed in 1938 by Bolshevik activists.  Reconsecrated in 1998. 100 thousand euros collected online for the restoration.  Warsaw donates a reproduction of the Black Virgin of Częstochowa.




Moscow (AsiaNews) - On June 19 the small Siberian village of Belostok celebrated the restoration of the Catholic church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, which was burnt by a fire in 2018. The restoration was finished on June 12, which is a national holiday in Russia.  The event is recognized as a sign of hope not only by Catholics, but by all the locals, says the website Sibir.Realii.

Belostok's historical identity is embedded in it's  Catholic roots: a group of Poles founded the small town in 1898, after arriving in this area of ​​the Tomsk region.  The fire at first seemed to have deprived the faithful of their place common identity forever. However, in a very short time, an astounding amont of funds were collected: as much as 100 thousand euros.

In the years of the Stalinist repressions, 90% of the male inhabitants of Belostok were exterminated;  today about two hundred inhabitants live there.  The Catholic faith has remained in the hearts of a few elderly people, and even after the end of the communist regime and the economic crises of recent years, the village seemed destined for extinction.  The restoration of the church instead instills the hope of a new life for the whole local community.

Many villages in Siberia have had a similar history.  Groups of various ethnic origins and the families of the deportees struggled to carve out a space for independence in the difficult living conditions of the region.  The Belostok church was consecrated in 1908. A few years later, in 1913, in the neighboring village of Maličevka, other Poles did the same by building a small Latin Catholic church.  A parish was then formed which included the towns of Belostok, Polozovo, Voznesenka, Malinovka, Maličevka and a series of remote farmhouses inhabited by Poles and Latvians.  The priests came from Tomsk and the parish gathered about a thousand inhabitants, out of the 60 thousand Poles scattered throughout Siberia.

Unlike other places of Polish deportation, both in the time of the Tsar and after the Bolshevik revolution, the inhabitants of these villages never stood out for protests or revolts.  However, the Stalinist persecutions also reached these distant places.  In 1931 the Soviet authorities arrested the last priest, Father Julian Gronskij, who was sentenced to 10 years in a concentration camp.  In 1938, Communist Party activists devastated the church, which was later used as a warehouse and Bolshevik "house of culture".  In 1938, the NKVD (the future KGB) carried out the so-called "Polish operation" in a few days, condemning almost 40,000 Siberian Poles to the concentration camp.

1990 was the year of the first rebirth, with the restitution of the building.  After a restoration, the bishop of Novosibirsk Josif Werth rededicated it in 1998. In 2003 the Belostok community also opened a memorial complex in honor of the local victims of Stalinism and war.

In 2018, a trivial short circuit reduced the church to ashes, but the parishioners did not lose heart.  Together with the parish priest, Fr.  Krzysztof, they launched the #SibirskijBelostokVoskresenie campaign (the “Resurrection of Belostok in Siberia”) on social networks.  Donations arrived from Poland, Russia, England, Germany and other countries: the necessary sum was reached in less than two years.  The rest ofthe work was carried out by the villagers, working for free on the reconstruction, even if most of them no longer profess the Catholic faith.

The consul general of Poland, Krzysztof Sviderek, also took part in the ceremony on 12 June.  He brought as a gift a reproduction of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Queen of Poland and of Belostok.

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