Archbishop Gallagher in Minsk. Russian Catholic bishops with Kondrusiewicz (VIDEO)
by Vladimir Rozanskij

In the absence of an apostolic nuncio to Belarus, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States wishes to dialogue with the government authorities over their ban on allowing the Archbishop of Minsk, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, to return home. The Russian bishops: Do not be afraid! God's people pray for Belarus. New arrests and violence at the red church in Minsk.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, has come to Belarus to meet with political authorities. On 11 September evening he was due to meet the foreign minister Vladimir Makeev, his "peer" in diplomatic relations.

Archbishop Gallagher has personally travelled to the nation in an attempt to clarify the difficulties that led to the refusal to allow the archbishop of Minsk, Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, return home as protests rage throughout the country. The news of Msgr. Gallagher’s trip was first reported by the Belarusian website (1599818905-v-belarus-pribyl-vysokopostavlennyy-chin-iz-vatikana).

The vicar general of the archdiocese of Minsk, Bishop Jurij Kosobutsky, had declared in recent days that the metropolitan’s case was not an isolated one; on the contrary, the authorities are putting pressure on the Catholic Church at various levels, which is committed to sharing the Belarusian people's concerns for truth and justice. The Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) on September 2 in turn published a declaration regarding the exiled archbishop, hoping "that it is only an unfortunate misunderstanding, that it can be resolved as soon as possible and that such incidents do not reoccur in the future".

After the refusal of Kondrusiewicz, the situation in Belarus worsened with the expulsions of the leaders of the opposition to President Lukashenko. Olga Kovalkova, Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov were forcibly transferred abroad; Maria Kolesnikova ripped up her passport to avoid deportation, and is now in solitary confinement on charges of conspiracy against the established order. Even the writer and Nobel laureate Svetlana Alekseevič was threatened by Omon agents in her own home, and only the intervention of Western diplomats prevented her arrest.

As is usually the case in such delicate situations, the Holy See has so far abstained from official comments on the Belarusian domestic front, and on the case of Msgr. Kondrusiewicz. A further difficulty is constituted by the absence of the apostolic nuncio to Belarus, whose official rotation has not yet been completed. This is another reason as to why the Vatican “foreign minister” Gallagher has taken the responsibility of conducting negotiations with the local authorities upon himself.

On 10 September a letter was also published addressed to Msgr. Kondrusiewicz by the Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops in Russia, signed by its president, the archbishop of the diocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, Msgr. Paolo Pezzi. Together with his confreres, Msgr. Klemens Pickel of Saratov, Msgr. Josif Werth of Novosibirsk and Msgr. Cyryl Klimovicz of Irkutsk, Kondrusiewicz's successor in Moscow addresses him with the words of St. Francis of Assisi: "Peace and good! We know of the trials and difficulties of your people and yours. (...) Dear brother Tadeusz, let us remember how at the dawn of the rebirth of the Church in our country you obediently assumed the office of archbishop to serve Russia, and many years later Belarus again. (…) We thank the Lord and we are grateful to you for the bonds of communion in the Church of God, which may be of support and help for you in the hours of trial and suffering. (...) Dear brother, now you miss your country and suffer for its destiny, the destiny of your people, you are anguished by the impossibility of carrying out your pastoral service. Do not be afraid! God's people pray for Belarus. Trusting in the power of prayer, we express the hope that by the grace of God you will soon be able to return home and continue your ministry, as we invoke daily in our supplications to the Most High. "

During new protests in the center of Minsk, around Independence Square, OMON agents tried to disperse and arrest a group of women who demonstrated in the churchyard of the "red church" of Saints Simeon and Helena, the Catholic church at the center of the clashes of the past weeks (photo 2). The events were filmed by correspondents ( . See also: The video shows how the women try to take refuge in the red church, while the masked men block the entrance to the building. One of the women, 72-year-old activist Nina Baginskaja, was beaten with a truncheon, only to be surrounded by a group of men who parked a van in front of her. Protests are intensifying in view of Lukashenko’s announced meeting with Russian President Putin on September 14, in which Russia will officially recognize the disputed outcome of the elections of August 9.