By Vladimir Vasiliev
Cardinal Koch, who chairs the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has told the President that he sees Belarus as a country where unity has been achieved. Waiting in the Blue Hall, he was joined by the Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk Filaret and the Archbishop Metropolitan of Minsk and Mogilev, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. The President welcomed his guests in the Christian way, by kissing each three times on the cheek.
The conversation began by discussing the state of relations between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in Belarus. Mr. Lukashenko informed his Vatican guest that, during his presidency, he has no recollection of any disagreements between the two confessions, let alone conflicts.
“This is mostly to their merit,” noted the President, nodding to Archbishop Kondrusiewicz and Metropolitan Filaret. “I, as a representative of the state, have done all I can to ensure better conditions for both confessions.”
He added that Belarus is an example of mutual understanding between religious confessions. “We have no problems relating to religion, ethnicity or faith. We have a peaceful and calm life.”
“Amen!” answered the Metropolitan Filaret, summing up the President’s words. Everyone smiled and the Belarusian President repeated loudly, “Amen!”
Everyone was in high spirits and a common language was easily found, although Cardinal Koch spoke Italian while the others at the meeting spoke Russian. However, at one particular moment, it seemed that understanding transcended words. The interpreter was doing her best, as appreciated by the President and the Cardinal. Mr. Lukashenko expressed his opinion that the translation was perhaps sounding better than the original, provoking a smile from everyone present. However, the conversation turned serious when Mr. Lukashenko began to speak of politics, noting his hopes for the Roman Catholic Church not only in Heaven but on Earth, especially in the West.
“We don’t accept the policy currently pursued by Europe towards Belarus. It isn’t normal,” asserted the Belarusian leader.
“We are awaiting more from the Roman Catholic Church and personally from Pope Benedict XVI in protecting our interests, especially in the West.”
The President explained why he was addressing the spiritual leaders with secular issues, saying, “The Church is surely the fairest and most peaceful body in this prevailingly unjust world. I’d like it to lend its weight towards protecting justice.”
Mr. Lukashenko recollected his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, which took place in 2009. The Belarusian President asked Cardinal Koch to pass on his thanks to the Pope for the Holy See’s support of Belarus, ‘including within the international arena’.
“Of course, I’ll pass on your words and everything I’ve seen here to the Vatican,” promised the Chair of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Cardinal Koch also noted that his presence in Minsk allowed him to join an international conference for issues of Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. He noted that dialogue between the two denominations was well established in Belarus, while communications between the state and each confession are well developed. He especially thanked the Belarusian President for this.
Finally, he expressed his joy at ‘seeing Catholic and Orthodox churches full of people’. “This shows that religion is alive in Belarus, as is faith among the population.” He plans to pass the good news on to the Vatican.