Protesters in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, Sept. 13, 2020. Credit: Homoatrox/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).
The Catholic bishops of Belarus appealed Wednesday for a “peaceful solution” to the crisis that has gripped their country since a disputed presidential election in August.
In a message, issued yesterday in Belarusian and Russian, the bishops said that, after months of protests and crackdowns, the crisis was deepening.
“Violence does not stop, blood continues to be shed, society is divided. This does not foretell us a happy future, for, as Christ said, a house divided against itself cannot stand,” the bishops said.
They noted that Belarus — a country of 9.5 million people bordering Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine — previously enjoyed a reputation for harmony between its different religious and ethnic groups.
“The Catholic Church, guided by the Gospel and the social doctrine built on it, opposes and condemns violence, lawlessness, injustice and untruth,” they said.
“The Church calls for a peaceful solution to the problems that arise, through dialogue in the spirit of love for God and neighbour, with observance of God’s and human laws.”
The bishops echoed Pope Francis’ comments after reciting the Angelus on 13 September.
Without mentioning any nations by name, the pope said: “While I urge the demonstrators to present their demands peacefully, without giving in to the temptation of aggression and violence, I appeal to all those who have public and governmental responsibilities to listen to the voice of their fellow citizens and to meet their just aspirations, ensuring full respect for human rights and civil liberties.”
“Finally, I invite the ecclesial communities living in such contexts, under the guidance of their Pastors, to work in favour of dialogue, always in favour of dialogue, and in favour of reconciliation.”
Protests erupted in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Aug. 9 after the government’s electoral officials announced a landslide victory for Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference, was prevented from returning to the country on Aug. 31. The archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev had spoken out in defense of protesters and said he feared the country was heading towards civil war.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, visited Belarus in September in an attempt to resolve the impasse. But Kondrusiewicz remains barred from his homeland.
Earlier this month, Lukashenko received the Holy See’s new ambassador to the country, Archbishop Ante Jozić.
The state-owned news agency BelTA reported that Lukashenko told the nuncio that Belarus and the Vatican enjoyed “special relations.”
But on 19 November, the Prosecutor General of Minsk issued an official warning to Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, an auxiliary bishop of Minsk-Mohilev, over comments he made on Facebook. Kasabutsky had criticized the authorities for destroying a memorial to a young man reportedly killed by security forces.
In their message on Thursday, the bishops emphasized that their mission was to build the Kingdom of God and that the Church “cannot be used by anyone for political purposes.”
They urged Belarusians to show solidarity with each other to build “a united, not divided, Belarus.”
They said: “We call on Catholics and all people of goodwill to continue to offer their prayers for a speedy and peaceful solution to the crisis, for blessed are the peacemakers and those who seek justice, as Christ says. May good defeat evil.”