Border guards stop Catholic archbishop from returning to Belarus

2020 08 19 akrescina 011 Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz prays outside of the Akrestsin Street pre-trial detention center in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 19. |

Border guards blocked a Catholic archbishop from returning to Belarus Monday. 

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk-Mohilev was attempting to enter Belarus from Poland when he was stopped by border guards, reported the website of the Catholic Church in Belarus Aug. 31.

Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, an auxiliary bishop in Minsk-Mohilev archdiocese, said that Kondrusiewicz was returning from a business trip when he sought to enter Belarus at the crossing between the Polish village of Kuźnica and the Belarusian village of Bruzgi.

"Border guards of the Republic of Belarus denied the head of the Belarusian Catholic episcopate entry to the country without explanation," Kasabutsky said.

Kondrusiewicz is a citizen of the Republic of Belarus who was born to an ethnic Polish family.

The archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev has spoken out in defense of protesters following a disputed presidential election Aug. 9. 

Last week he demanded an investigation into reports that riot police blocked the doors of a Catholic church in Minsk while clearing away protesters from a nearby square.

He prayed outside of a prison Aug. 19 where detained protesters were reported to have been tortured.

Belarus, a country of 9.5 million people bordering Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, has seen widespread protests since the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the presidential election with 80% of the vote. 

Electoral officials said that the opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, earned 10% of the vote. She was detained for several hours after complaining to the electoral committee, and has fled to Lithuania. 

Police arrested thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets demanding a recount. Despite a severe crackdown, protests have continued across the country. 

Kondrusiewicz met with Interior Minister Yuri Karaev Aug. 21 to express his concerns about the government's heavy-handed response to the protests. 

Lukashenko has served as president of Belarus since the office was established in 1994, three years after the country declared independence from the Soviet Union.

Catholics are the second-largest religious community in Belarus after Orthodox Christians, comprising roughly 15% of the population.

Pope Francis appealed for justice and dialogue in Belarus in his Angelus address Aug. 16.

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"I carefully follow the post-electoral situation in this country and appeal for dialogue, the rejection of violence and respect for justice and law. I entrust all Belarusians to the protection of Our Lady, Queen of Peace," he said.

In a statement issued later on Monday, Kasabutsky urged Belarusian Catholics to pray for Kondrusiewicz.

He asked priests to celebrate Masses for Belarus, the Church and the archbishop. He invited lay people to attend the Masses and to take part in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as to say the rosary and the chaplet of Divine Mercy.

"At a difficult time for all of us, let us mobilize in prayer, as well as show special solidarity and support each other in every situation, because we are one big family," he said.

This report has been updated to include Bishop Kasabutsky's appeal for prayer.

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