Belarusian authorities have barred Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz from entering the country, a day after the head of the Catholic Church in Belarus warned the nation’s political crisis could lead to civil war.
Border guards blocked the 74-year-old archbishop of Minsk and Mohilev from entering from neighboring Poland on August 31, despite him being a citizen of Belarus.
“Border guards of the Republic of Belarus denied the head of the Belarusian Catholic episcopate entry to the country without explanation,” Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky, an auxiliary bishop in the Minsk and Mohilev archdiocese, was quoted by the Catholic News Agency as saying.
The president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference has been a vocal critic of the brutal crackdown on protesters in the wake of the country’s contested August 9 vote.
President Alyaksandr Lukashanka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, was declared the winner of the election, which was widely viewed as rigged. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past three weeks to protest the results and demand he step down despite a crackdown that has left hundreds injured and at least six dead.
In an address read at Catholic churches on August 30, Kondrusiewicz wrote that the country faced an “unprecedented sociopolitical crisis” and the prospect of civil war.
“In a peace-loving and tolerant Belarus -- as our country is known in the world -- brother raised his hand against his brother, as a result of which blood was shed and many people were injured,” the metropolitan said.
“The difficult economic situation is also very alarming today. We are threatened by international isolation. More and more often you can hear the opinion that the threat of a civil war is becoming real, which none of us could have even thought of a few months ago,” he continued.
“From the very beginning of the sociopolitical crisis, the Catholic Church has encouraged prayer and called problems to be solved through dialogue, remembering Christ’s words that without him we could do nothing,” Kondrusiewicz said.
Earlier this week, Kondrusiewicz condemned security forces after they blocked the entrance to the Church of Saints Symon and Alena in Minsk, a structure also known as the Red Church.
He has also condemned police beatings and detentions of protesters.
“The beating of peaceful demonstrators who want to know the truth, their cruel treatment and inhumane detention, is a grave sin on the conscience of those who give criminal orders and commit violence,” he wrote in a message to Belarusian state officials on August 14.
According to official numbers, about 6 percent of Belarus’s 9.5 million people are Roman Catholic, while 53 percent belong to the Belarusian Orthodox Church. The remainder of the population identifies as atheist, uncertain, or belonging to minority religions.
With reporting by the Catholic News Agency