‘Each person has the right to choose their own path to church’
Belarus has obviously managed to preserve interfaith peace and mutual understanding, notes President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko with confidence, speaking with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin
Alexander Lukashenko and Pietro Parolin, beside the Immaculate Heart of Mary icon“My policy on this issue and that of the entire Belarusian state relies on one thesis: every person has the right to choose his path to God, and to the Church. It is our right and no one can infringe upon it. We prevent attempts to favour one church over another or to destabilise the interfaith situation in Belarus,” the President underlined.
Mr. Lukashenko emphasised that, as far as interfaith co-operation is concerned, the situation in Belarus relies on absolute peace and understanding. “I can openly say that we are proud of this,” noted the President. Today, Belarus is home to representatives of about 30 religious denominations, with the largest being the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. “They play a huge role in preserving interfaith peace and co-operation in Belarus. Their role is invaluable,” the Belarusian Head of State stressed.
Over the past 20 years, the number of Roman Catholic parishes in Belarus has almost quadrupled, with the state providing over 300 buildings and religious sites. According to the President, the needs of the Roman Catholic Church in church buildings are satisfied by almost 98 percent in Belarus. “Other religious denominations in Belarus cannot boast such a level and, perhaps, this level is hardly evident in other countries,” added the Belarusian leader.
Mr. Lukashenko commented on the training of Catholic priests, expressing his eagerness to have more local Catholic priests in Belarus. “We understand that this is not solely a Vatican issue. In order to have Catholic priests of Belarusian origin we need to train them in Belarus,” he admitted, adding that he has initiated the construction of an educational academy in Belarus. Meanwhile, a number of issues continue to require resolution, to benefit the Catholic community and Belarusian society,” stressed the President.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin lays wreath at Victory Monument in MinskThe Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, conveyed greetings from the Pope of Rome to the Belarusian President. He noted that his visit aims to bolster contacts with Belarusian public administration bodies. “I’m glad to hear that Belarus is happy with the role played by the Roman Catholic community in the life of the country,” said the Cardinal.
On meeting Mr. Parolin, Mr. Lukashenko gave him a hand-made icon of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to be passed to the Pope, made with ancient Belarusian ‘Sozh filigree’. Mr. Lukashenko noted that the icon’s value lies in it having been created by ordinary people. “This testifies to our interfaith peace and concord,” said the President.
The Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin arrived by regular, rather than charter, flight. He immediately spoke to journalists, noting that his visit represents that of the Vatican and Holy Father in recognising Belarus as a nation and the Catholic church in Belarus. Speaking of the role of Belarus for Vatican diplomacy, especially in regard to events in Ukraine, the Cardinal named Belarus as a key venue for settling the Ukrainian crisis, referring to Minsk negotiations and agreements. According to the Cardinal, ‘the Holy See wants to settle this crisis very much, and Belarus is playing a vital role in doing so’.
Pietro Parolin underlined the importance of his visit to Minsk, expressing hope that it will support diplomatic efforts by Belarusian authorities in gaining a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. He added, “The visit to Belarus is of special meaning at this moment, taking into account the Ukrainian situation and the role which authorities in Minsk want to play in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis through negotiation. I think that my presence can, to some extent, support the efforts of local authorities.”
Speaking of the Ukrainian conflict, he noted that the Vatican is closely monitoring the situation, and that he has met Ukrainian bishops to discuss events.
By Veniamin Mikheev