10/05/2021, 11.46
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The Belarusian government steps in to defend Catholic priests

by Vladimir Rozanskij

State-run newspaper Minskaja Pravda asked to avoid publication of satirical articles against the Catholic Church. Intervention of the Apostolic Nuncio in Minsk, Monsignor Ante Jozič. Priests painted as Nazi collaborators; the memory of the martyrs of Rositsa besmirched.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Belarusian Ministry of Information has asked the editorial staff of the state newspaper Minskaya Pravda to take measures to avoid the publication of material similar to the recent satire and violent criticism of the Catholic Church.

On Sept. 7, the newspaper had placed on its front page an illustration with a scathing caricature of Catholic priests, depicted as collaborators with the Nazis, alongside an article titled "The mutation of faith, crosses can be varied," in which the Christian symbol was replaced by a swastika.

The ministry submitted its request on Oct. 1. The management of Minskaya Pravda has assured the government that it will comply with all recommendations, the BelaPAN website reports.

"The editorial staff held a meeting with the leaders of the regional administration, during which the necessary measures to avoid other similar cases were developed," the note reads.

At the ministry, they also specified that the article in question was analyzed together with experts from the Commission for Religious Affairs and Nationalities, according to which "such a publication, in our unanimous opinion, does not allow for the preservation of interfaith harmony and peace in our country."

After the protests of the Catholic bishops of Belarus, and an intervention by the apostolic nuncio in Minsk, Mgr Ante Jozič, a group of citizens asked the government to intervene. The request pointed out that "such publications directed against the representatives of the clergy are unacceptable, offensive and worrying not only for the Catholic priests, but for the whole Belarusian people.

According to the petitioners, "such things appearing on a state-owned media seems to us an attempt to incite religious hostility towards the Catholic Church and its faithful".

The authors of the petition demand the violation of the norms on freedom of conscience and religious association, and also the crime provided for in Article 130 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, which speaks of "incitement to racial, national and religious hatred and conflict". This crime is also covered by the Convention on National Security of the Republic of Belarus.

The caricature primarily depicted priests Jurij Kašira and Antonij Leščevič, who were brutally murdered by the Nazis in the 1943 Rositsa massacre for refusing to abandon their parishioners. The Trinity Church in the village of Rositsa, in the Vitebsk region, is still the destination of continuous pilgrimages today. At that time, the Nazis carried out a demonstrative action against partisans hiding in the surrounding countryside, attempting to isolate an area of over 40 square kilometers, burning 300 trees on the Belarus-Russian border and also destroying settlements.

German troops gathered the inhabitants of Rositsa in the church; the prisoners waited for five days for the "verdict" of the Nazi tribunal, supported by the two local priests, the only ones who could enter and leave the church and bring food to the faithful, as well as spiritual comforts. The Nazi occupiers sent the young men to the lagers, and then burned alive the elderly, the sick, children and pregnant women in the stables in front of the church. The priests could have saved themselves, but they decided to die burned alive with their parishioners. A total of 1,528 people died in Rositsa.

Fr. Jurij and Fr. Antonij were canonized in 1999 as martyrs, and twice a year pilgrims gather, in February for the anniversary of the massacre and in August for the patronal feast, bowing to the large cross erected in memory of the fallen. The insult to the cross in the state newspaper was therefore very painful for the memory of Catholics.

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