Belarus has reiterated its invitation to Pope Francis to visit the country during talks with a senior Vatican official. The statement was made by Vladimir Makei—the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs—just a week after the leader of the Belarusian Catholic Church was blocked from returning to his homeland.
It can be recalled that during his trip to the Vatican in 2016, President Alexander Lukashenko invited Pope Francis to visit Belarus to meet its people. And according to Makei, the invitation is still open despite the ongoing tension between the local Catholic Church and the government.
Makei even reportedly said that his visit to the Vatican “proves that Belarus and the Holy See have special relations of mutual understanding and trust.” (Read: How Pope John Paul II Became A ‘Secret Activist’) “We have good and fruitful relations with the Holy See. We would like to develop and strengthen our cooperation in all areas,” he added.
Just last month, the Catholic community in Belarus called out the government after Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the leader of the country’s Catholic Church, was turned back by border guards on his return to Belarus after a trip to Poland. (Read: Archbishop Barred From Entering Belarus After Criticizing Government) Archbishop Kondrusiewicz is a Belarusian citizen who has been a vocal critic of the government.
Belarus has been in a state of tension ever since the controversial presidential elections on August 9, 2020. Incumbent president Lukashenko claimed victory with 80% of the vote while his challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, questioned the electoral officials about the outcome of the elections. Amid protests, authorities have detained opposition leaders.
Catholic Church vs. State
Amid growing tensions between the local Catholic Church and the Belarusian government, a Sunday Mass broadcast from a Cathedral in Minsk (the capital of Belarus) was taken off the airwaves of the country’s largest radio channel in Belarus.
Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky of the Minsk-Mogilev archdiocese said that the sudden cessation of the broadcasts is proof of the authorities’ attempt to “put pressure” on the Catholic Church.