Today Salesian structures in Belarus operate within Religious Catholic Mission Society of St. Francis de Sales, which is located on the territory where Salesian charism was alive and active for the past 100 years thanks to sacrificial and committed ministry of Salesian confreres.
On October 16, the solemn celebration of the centenary of the Salesian presence on the territory of modern Belarus began. The festive program began with a historical symposium. There were many representatives of the Catholic Church in Belarus, Salesian priests, priests and representatives of other monastic communities, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the Association of Salesian Cooperators, animators, youth and members of each Salesian parish present on the occasion.
The Rector of the Salesians in Belarus Fr. Viktor Haidukevich SDB greeted the audience: “Today ‘s anniversary awakens many feelings and emotions - from the joy of the beginning of the Salesian charism through the sufferings of the way of the cross suffered during the terrible wars at the hands of totalitarian systems, through the revival of the catholic faith to this day. We, the modern generation of Salesians, with gratitude in our hearts and strong hope, continue to write history; we continue to build a beautiful temple of Salesian charism on a strong and solid foundation!”
He greeted the guests of honour, all groups of the Salesian family presented at the celebration as well as all those gathered and wished the participants of the symposium a joyful celebration of the beautiful anniversary and beautiful experience of deepening of the knowledge of the history of the Salesians in Belarus!
Rector Major of the Salesians, Fr Ángel Fernández Artime SDB has sent congratulatory video from Rome.
Letters of felicitations were also sent by Provincial Tadeusz Jarestky SDB and Bishop of Hrodno diocese, Most. Rev. Aleksandr Kashkevich who wished to be present on the celebration but couldn’t take part in it.
The bishops of dioceses also sent in their congratulatory messages and expressed that the great significance of the celebration was not only for the Salesians, but also for the whole Catholic Church in Belarus.
A compendium on the life and living conditions of the Salesians in Belarus over the past hundred years was also presented to the audience. The speakers included emiment personalities like the retired Metropolitan Archbishop of Minsk-Mahilëŭ, Most. Rev. Tadeush Kondrusiewich, Fr Artur Liashneusky SDB and doctor of historical sciences Edmund Yarmusik.
A great surprise for the audience was a documentary film prepared by the Salesians and the Belarussian television company. The film narrates the history of the Salesian mission in the Belarussian land. It is possible to watch it on YouTube channel.
In conclusion, the Superior of the Salesians in Belarus expressed his sincere gratitude to all the participants and organizers of the symposium and noted that this anniversary was a great honour for the Salesians all over the world, but also placed a great responsibility to carry forward the heritage of the past generations of Salesians, who spared neither strength, nor health, not even their lives to build the mission.
Drawing on past experience, he emphasized how he saw the personality of the modern Salesian: “Following the example of Don Bosco, the Salesian must be a bearer of hope, a source of optimism and joy, despite difficulties and problems. Reliable support in realizing our mission is a sincere devotion to the Eucharist and to Mary, so that we may be true witnesses of Christ and our holy founder.”
After the symposium, everyone went for the Mass to the Arch-cathedral Church of the blessed Virgin Mary to pray together and to thank God once again for the gift of 100 years of Salesian service in Belarus. The Mass was celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Belarus, Archbishop Most. Rev. Ante Jozic.
Before the beginning of the Mass people were greeted by the local rector of the Salesians in Belarus, Fr. Viktor Haidukevich SDB. He thanked the representatives of the local church for their presence. He emphasized the significance of the celebration for all Salesians: “Today’s anniversary is a debt of gratitude for the centuries of old history of our predecessors, who were defined by sacrificial love for God and neighbour, austerity and prayer, devotion and tireless service to the Lord. It is our gratitude for a hundred years of evangelization and of giving God ‘s graces in the holy sacraments and, of course, it is gratitude for a hundred years of pedagogical effort for the good of children and youth of our Fatherland!”.
In the homily the Nuncio once again recalled the history of the Salesian Society in Belarus and recounted its difficult and joyful periods. The nuncio said: “Today Salesians of John Bosco continue the activity of their founder and wish to be true to the charism, to remain a sign of God’s love for the young. Dear Salesian brothers, I invite you every day to re-discover your charism, to live in community. I invite you to identify the real needs of today ‘s youth, of the parish communities entrusted to your care. I invite you to act in unity for the Church and to revive the world in Christ, so that it may become better, and more than just fraternal!”
A marble memorial plaque with the names of all Salesians who worked on the territory of Belarus in the period from 1921 to 2021 was brought to the altar as a gift. This plaque will be fixed to the wall of the church of St. John Bosco in Minsk. A Time capsule was also brought with a message from the modern Salesian family to their descendants and it will be opened after 100 years.
At the end of the Mass, members of different groups of Salesian Family -Salesian Sisters, Salesian Cooperators, ADMA and the youth wished the Salesians. Fr. Pavel Shcharbitsky SDB thanked Fr. Viktor for his diligent and careful leading of the Salesians of today. Salesian bishop Most Rev. Aliaksandr Yasheusky SDB noted that the celebration was, first of all, a kind of gratitude to God and Mary as well as to the people who needed the salesian charism. The bishop said that celebration of this anniversary was not a sign of pride but a sign of respect for the past generation and a sign of gratitude. This celebration must provide a new impetus for the development of the Salesians: “It helps us to draw the way for the future, so that our charism is a truly manifestation of God’s love for everyone who comes into contact with our parishes, oratories, our youth centers”.
A beautiful moment emphasizing the important contribution of the Salesians for the revival of the faith in the country was Pope Francis’s Medal that the Apostolic Nuncio presented to the Superior of the Salesians in Belarus, Fr. Viktor Haidukevich. The Nuncio also wished the Salesians a new century of fruitful service in Belarus.
Next day, the centenary celebrations took place in every parish of Salesian presence in Belarus.