Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has ordered authorities to resolve the case of Minsk’s exiled Catholic archbishop at the request of Pope Francis, the foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who had angered Lukashenko by defending the rights of anti-government protesters, was barred from entry in August as he tried to come home from a ceremony in neighbouring Poland.
Mass protests demanding Lukashenko leave power erupted after an August 9 presidential election and are still being staged weekly, though their size has diminished amid a crackdown.
A special envoy from Pope Francis met Lukashenko last week. Vatican diplomats have been working for nearly five months to persuade Lukashenko to allow Kondrusiewicz to return, and a senior Vatican source said the Holy See was trying to get him back in time for Christmas.
Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey said Lukashenko was responding to an appeal made in a letter handed to him by the special envoy.
“Out of deep respect for the Pope and their good relations, (Lukashenko) considered it possible to grant the Pope’s request and to give the appropriate instruction to find a solution,” Makey said in comments published on the ministry’s website.
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.