The Portal November 2017 - Page 20

THE P RTAL November 2017 Page 20 Aid to the Church in Need Church working for rights, not privileges Murcadha O Flaherty reports on the situation facing Catholics in Belarus B elarus’ authorities are undermining religious freedom for more than 650,000 Catholics in the country, but a senior cleric spoke of the Church’s efforts helping the faithful there. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk-Mohilev wrote to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need of government obstacles preventing priests extending their residence permits and additional restrictions on visiting priests to stop them from celebrating Holy Mass. Identifying the need for state and Church to formally sign an agreement upholding the right to religious freedom in Belarus, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said: “Without a concordat… the Church in the Republic of Belarus cannot completely fulfil its mission as it does in other countries.” He stated that the Church is not seeking “any privileges, but an acknowledgement of its rights in order to be able to adequately carry out its work.” The prelate told the charity of a growing number of foreign priests having worked in Belarus for many years who are now being denied extensions to their residence permits. He said that priests are deported under the pretext of minor road traffic offences such as speeding. Noting the impact of the authorities’ visa restrictions, he said: “They are often issued a visa for only three to six months. That is not conducive to doing any sort of real work as a priest, and the pastoral work with believers and youth formation are suffering from it.” Even though the archbishop noted a significant growth from 60 to 400 native Belarus priests over the past 25 years, he described the work of foreign priests across the country as “indispensable”. He said: “We are trying to develop local vocations, but that takes time. And then you have to factor in the demographic crisis, which also has a negative impact on the number of vocations.” Archbishop Kondrusiewicz added that visiting priests on short-term visas are required to obtain permission from the authorities before they are allowed to celebrate Holy Mass – a request that is not processed within the duration of their stay in the country. He said: “A paradox situation has developed in which a foreign priest may attend Mass as part of the congregation, but when he stands on the other side of the altar and celebrates Holy Mass himself, he becomes a criminal.” The archbishop said: “For some unknown reason, Belarus is afraid of foreign priests. But how many church buildings have been and are being built to serve believers in Belarus – and all thanks to the efforts of these foreign priests. These priests come to proclaim the Word of God in places where there are no local priests… They get to know the culture of Belarus and Belarus becomes their home. And they bring new pastoral experiences with them. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz spoke of the state’s refusal to return Church buildings confiscated during Soviet times. Noting that restitution laws for Church property are in place in several other East European countries, but an absence of protection for the Church’s cultural heritage in Belarus, he said: “Where is the justice?” He added that costly permit extensions have to be paid during the construction work for churches, which are built solely with parishioners’ donations, unlike other public buildings with state funding. The archbishop also spoke of his concern about state attempts to influence the contents of catechesis teaching materials used in the Church’s Sunday school programme. He said: “This is just interference in the internal matters of the Church and is not reconcilable with religious freedom and the freedom of conscience and of religious organisations.” Aid to the Church in Need is supporting the Church in Belarus with catechesis courses in the Maryvale Institute and elsewhere as well as building parish centres including the retreat centre constructed in Grondo Diocese, Ros City. Aid to the Church in Need - www.acnuk.org contact: acn@acnuk.org or call 020 8642 8668