A special envoy from Pope Francis met on Thursday with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the Vatican said, following tensions between the government and the Church over the exiling of the archbishop of Minsk.
The Vatican said in a statement Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain and former envoy to Belarus, had met Lukashenko to express the pope’s “worry about the current situation in the country”.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who had angered Lukashenko by defending the rights of anti-government protesters, was blocked from returning to Belarus at the border in August as he tried to come home from a ceremony in neighbouring Poland.
The official Belarus news agency Belta reported Thursday’s meeting between Lukashenko and Gugerotti and released a photo of the two men, but did not mention Kondrusiewicz’s exile or tensions in the country.
Lukashenko has been trying to strengthen his grip on power after mass protests and strikes following a disputed election on August 9.
Vatican diplomats have been working for nearly five months to persuade Lukashenko to allow Kondrusiewicz to return but have so far been unsuccessful. The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, made a mission to the country in September.
A senior Vatican source said the Holy See was trying to get Kondrusiewicz back in time for Christmas.
Other churchmen have faced reprisals from the authorities since the contested polls. At least two Catholic priests have been detained for participating in protests.
Belarusians overwhelmingly observe Orthodox Christianity, but the country has small Catholic minorities, observing the Roman rite common in Poland or the Eastern rite found in neighbouring Ukraine.