Belarus’ State Border Guard Committee says the barring of the leader of Belarusian Catholics, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, from entering the country is due to the fact that his passport had been annulled.
The Belarusian Catholic Church said in a statement on September 14 that it had received an official answer from the ministry last week after Kondrusiewicz requested an explain as to why he could not come back into the country.
“We inform you that you have not been allowed to cross the state border due to a decision by interior affairs organs that finds invalid the passport for the Republic of Belarus… that you hold. To get information on reasons why your passport was found invalid, you have the right to turn to the Interior Ministry,” the statement said, citing an official letter signed by the chief of the State Border Guard Committee, Anatol Lapo.
The committee’s spokesman Anton Bychkouski confirmed to RFE/RL that Kondrusiewicz’s passport had been added to the list of invalid documents, but did not give any other details.
The president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference has been a vocal critic of the brutal crackdown on protesters in the wake of the country’s contested August 9 vote.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, was declared the winner of the election, which was widely viewed as rigged.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past several weeks to protest the results and demand he step down despite a crackdown that has left hundreds injured and at least six dead.
In an address read at Catholic churches on August 30, Kondrusiewicz wrote that the country faced an “unprecedented socio-political crisis” and the prospect of civil war.
Days before that, Kondrusiewicz condemned security forces after they blocked the entrance to the Church of Saints Symon and Alena in Minsk, a structure also known as the Red Church.
He has also condemned police beatings and detentions of protesters.
According to official numbers, about 6 percent of Belarus’s 9.5 million people are Roman Catholic, while 53 percent belong to the Belarusian Orthodox Church.
The remainder of the population identifies as atheist, uncertain, or belonging to minority religions.
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– Church has right to speak out on “matters of the spirit, the moral order and care for humanity”
In the meantime, as news broke of the invalidation of his passport, Kondrusiewicz was insisting on the Church’s right to speak out on “matters of the spirit, moral order and care for humanity” in the midst of the “socio-political crisis” in Belarus.
“Blood has been shed because of this confrontation – there’ve been victims and many injured, fuelling resentment and a desire for revenge which aren’t typical of our country,” the archbishop said in comments reported by The Tablet.
“As a guardian of morality, in line with its social teaching, the Church is called to evaluate processes occurring in society from a moral standpoint. Far from interfering in the sphere of politics, it merely seeks a just solution to emerging problems in line with the Gospel spirit.”
Meanwhile, auxiliary bishop of Minsk and Mohilev Alexander Yashevsky told the faithful that the Pope’s appeal Sunday at the Angelus for governments “to listen to the voice of their fellow citizens and to meet their just aspirations, ensuring full respect for human rights and civil liberties” was a reference to Belarus.
For his part, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher was in Belarus from September 11-14 to conduct meetings, the Holy See confirmed, “with the civil authorities and those in charge of the Catholic Church,” and “to express the attention and closeness of the Holy Father to the Catholic Church and to the whole country.”
In the context of Gallagher’s visit, Belarus Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei renewed an open invitation to Pope Francis to visit the country and told the Vatican ‘foreign minister’ that “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,” Makei continued.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin subsequently confirmed that “when the risks of COVID-19 have passed, Pope Francis would take into consideration a trip to Belarus.”
That confirmation from Cardinal Parolin came as the Catholic Bishops of Russia came out in support of Kondrusiewicz in the face of the “serious trials and difficulties” that both the archbishop and the Belarusian Church are experiencing, and as the US Catholic Bishops urged “that the human rights of all citizens be respected” and that “peace and justice… prevail” in Belarus.