Belarus re-invites Pope to visit

Belarus has renewed its 2016 invitation to Pope Francis to visit the country.

Vladimir Makei, the Belarus Minister of Foreign Affairs, reiterated the invitation during a meeting with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, who is the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States.

Makei told Gallagher, who was visiting Belarus, that the invitation remained open despite tensions between the local Catholic Church and the government.

“Your visit proves that Belarus and the Holy See have special relations of mutual understanding and trust. We are satisfied with the dynamics of the development of contacts at the high and highest levels.”

Just days earlier on 31 August, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who is the leader of the Catholic Church in Belarus and a citizen of the country, was blocked from returning home after a visit to Poland.

Makei says Belarus and the Holy See enjoyed a high level of cooperation at the United Nations because of shared values.

He thanked the Vatican for supporting the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking, an association of UN member states established at the initiative of Belarus in 2010.

“We would like to develop and strengthen our cooperation in all areas,” Makei says.

The Holy See press office says Gallagher’s aim in visiting the country intended “to express the attention and closeness of the Holy Father to the Catholic Church and to the whole country.”

Gallagher’s programme included “meetings with the civil authorities and those in charge of the Catholic Church.”

The Eastern European country has been rocked by protests following a disputed presidential election on 9 August.

President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory with 80 percent of the vote – a victory disputed by his opposition.

Amid ongoing protests, one presidential hopeful has fled the country and the authorities have detained opposition leaders, provoking an international outcry.

Kondrusiewicz, the president of the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference, spoke out in defense of protesters after they were targeted by police following the election.

This week a Sunday Mass broadcast from a Cathedral in Minsk was taken off the airwaves of the largest nationwide radio channel in Belarus.

Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, of the Minsk-Mogilev archdiocese, says the sudden cessation of the broadcasts shows that the authorities are trying to “put pressure” on the Church.

On Friday, Catholics in Minsk held a city-wide Stations of the Cross to pray for Kondrusiewicz’s return home.

The website of the Catholic Church in Belarus reported Sept. 11 that Kasabutsky addressed participants, saying: “We will follow this path of the Savior for the freedom of the Church in Belarus, for the return of our Metropolitan, for justice, goodness, and peace in our country.”


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