Belarusian authorities permitted his return to the country to celebrate Christmas at the request of Pope Francis, according to the nunciature in Belarus.
“The challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the socio-political crisis call us to return to true religiosity, which shows that we are created for something more than just caring for earthly affairs and pleasures,” Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said Dec. 24.
“The doors of the former Soviet Union, where militant atheism has prevailed for three generations, have opened to Christ. We got freedom, including religion. Unfortunately, we soon forgot that freedom is not only a gift, but also a responsibility,” he said in his homily, according to the website of the Catholic Church in Belarus.
Protests in Belarus began Aug. 9 after president Alexander Lukashenko was declared to have won that day's election with 80% of the vote. Electoral officials said that the opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, earned 10% of the vote. The opposition claims that she actually garnered at least 60% of votes.
Thousands of protesters against the election results were detained, including a number of priests. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz prayed outside of a prison where protesters were being held on Aug. 20.
Later that month Kondrusiewicz, who had been visiting Poland, was blocked from returning to Belarus by Belarusian border guards. His passport had been invalidated.
Lukashenko, who has served as president of Belarus since the position was created in 1994, suggested that Kondrusiewicz might be a citizen of more than one country — a claim that the archbishop denied.
The U.S., U.K., and EU no longer recognize Lukashenko as the Belarusian president. Canada, the U.K., and the EU have placed sanctions on senior Belarusian figures.
Lukashenko secured a $1.5 billion loan from Russian president Vladimir Putin in December as Putin denounced “external pressure” on Belarus.
Relations between the Holy See and Belarus have been strained over claims the Church in Belarus is being used to exert foreign influence, as well as Archbishop Kondrusiewicz’ exile.
Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, apostolic nuncio to the United Kingdom, acted as a special envoy of Pope Francis to Lukashenko, delivering a letter Dec. 17 with a request regarding Archbishop Kondrusiewicz.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said that when he was finally allowed to cross the border and return to Belarus on Dec. 24 he knelt down, prayed and kissed the ground.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Kondrusiewicz had served as metropolitan archbishop of Minsk since 2007 and as president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference since 2015.
He was consecrated as a bishop by St. John Paul II on Oct. 20, 1989 in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As bishop, Kondrusiewicz founded the Grodno Higher Theological Seminary and reopened about 100 churches that had been closed during the communist persecution, according to the website of the Catholic Church in Belarus.
In his homily on Jan. 1, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz called on Catholics in Belarus to entrust the year ahead to God “so that it may be a time of successful resolution of socio-political and epidemiological crises and a time of blessing that will bring many spiritual fruits to us and our society."