Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek (Eric VANDEVILLE/Gamma-Rapho)
MINSK, Belarus (AP) - Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, the former leader of the Catholic Church in Belarus who survived a Soviet death sentence and nearly a decade in the Gulag, has died at age 96.
The Catholic Church of Belarus said in a statement he died Thursday morning in a hospital in Pinsk. The cause was not specified.
Swiatek was sentenced to death for spying in 1939 by Soviet authorities, but escaped when Nazi Germany's forces occupied the city of Brest. After the Red Army regained control of Belarus in 1944, he was rearrested and served nine years in the brutal Gulag prison camp system.
Swiatek became archbishop of the Minsk diocese in 1991, was named a cardinal in 1994 and headed the church in Belarus, which counts about 15 percent of the country as believers, until 2006.
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