CARDINAL RISES ABOVE NEW WAVE OF REPRESSION
CATHOLICS in Belarus are bracing themselves for a new religious crackdown – but their cardinal has urged them to keep faith and not despair.
The Belarus parliament has passed a bill clamping down on religious freedom – outlawing unregistered religious activity, censoring literature about faith and even stopping all but the most occasional religious meetings in people’s homes.
The overwhelming support the bill received in the parliament last week has only fuelled the people’s growing certainty that the act will become law following the signature of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, leader of the former Soviet state sandwiched between Poland and Russia.
But anxious to quell his people’s fears, Cardinal Swiatek Kazimierz, Archbishop of Minsk, has spoken out saying that the faith that served the nation’s Catholics during the darkest days of dictatorship will serve them well through present and future difficulties.
The cardinal, who was condemned to death during the Communist regime and who spent 10 years in prison, said: “I cannot foresee that life will get any worse for Catholics in Belarus but we must hope that it does not get any worse.”
He stressed how the law is of greatest concern to fledgling religious groups and others relatively new to Belarus.
He said: “Some groups – including Protestants – will be hardest hit because they are not as well established.”
Appealing for renewed prayers for Belarus’ two million Catholics, the cardinal called upon the world to offer practical as well as spiritual assistance.
He praised organisations devoted to supporting the Church in Belarus, singling out the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need(ACN).
ACN has recently given more than $90,000 for a centre in Minsk providing pastoral support and religious instruction in a way intended to bring together Catholics of all cultures and religions across the country.
The Catholic charity’s support sped up the completion of the project before the implementation of the laws now awaiting ratification.
An ACN co-ordinator for Belarus said the charity was monitoring developments there closely to see how the law could be put into effect. “Only time will tell how this new law will affect the Catholic Church,” he said.
Photo:Cardinal Swiatek Kazimierz, Archbishop of Minsk