BELARUS. CARDINAL SWIATEK GIVES CAUTIOUS REACTION TO NEW RELIGION LAW
The archbishop of Minsk, Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek gave a guarded reaction to the new law on religion, signed on 31 October by President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. The new law is one of the most repressive of any in the states of the former Soviet Union. It bans any kind of activity by religious associations not registered by the State and provides for the censorship of religious literature. Additionally, under the new law, no foreigner may head any religious organisation in Belarus.
Following decades of persecution and oppression of the Church by the Soviet Union and, in the years following it, by the "Soviet-like" regime of President Lukashenko, Cardinal Swiatek, who himself was at first condemned to death by the communists and then spent 10 years in prison, has called upon the Catholic faithful to cling on to their Faith as in the old days. "I cannot see life getting any better for Catholics in Belarus", said the Cardinal and added: "but let us at least hope that it will not get any worse." Cardinal Swiatek stressed that Catholics were not the main target of the new restrictions. "Many groups, among them the Protestants, will be hardest hit, for they are not yet very well established." According to recent estimates, around two million of the approximately ten million inhabitants of Belarus are Catholics.
The cardinal spoke with praise of the help that the Church in Belarus has received from abroad, even in the hardest times, and singled out especially the support given by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
During the year 2001 Aid to the Church in Need in fact contributed over $1.5 million for pastoral projects in Belarus. Of crucial importance in this was the help given to over 130 candidates for the priesthood who are currently studying at the country's two, very recently established seminaries in Grodno and Minsk.
Cardinal Swiatek concluded by calling on all Catholics around the world to pray for their fellow Christians in Belarus.
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