Archbishop in exile asks for forgiveness after emotional return to Belarus
ROME – After shedding tears while crossing the border back to Belarus on Christmas Eve after a four-month exile, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk used the holiday liturgies to advocate for unity, reconciliation and sorry in the midst of the political upheavals underway in his country.
On December 24, Kondrusiewicz, 74, set foot in Belarus for the first time since August, when he was banned from returning to the country after a brief trip to Poland for his criticism of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and its management of pro-democracy demonstrations. in a contested election earlier this month.
Over the past four months, Kondrusiewicz continued to reside in Poland, where he had gone to celebrate the First Communion of a parent’s child and to see doctors following surgery that took place the year last.
During his stay in Poland, he spent much of his time in the Diocese of Bialystok carrying out various pastoral activities as many attempts were made to negotiate his return, especially on the part of the Vatican Secretary for Relations with the States, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
Kondrusiewicz’s return for Christmas was finally given the green light after Pope Francis personally intervened in a letter delivered to Lukashenko by the Vatican envoy to Britain Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti.
The news that Kondrusiewicz would be allowed to return was announced on December 22, and two days later, on Christmas Eve, the Archbishop was back in his country and preparing to celebrate mass in Minsk Cathedral.
In a December 24 press conference with journalists ahead of mass, Kondrusiewicz said he was taken to the Polish-Belarusian border by a priest and received there by Iosif Staneuski, auxiliary bishop of the Belarusian Diocese of Grodno.
Visibly moved, Kondrusiewicz said that when he crossed the border, “I asked the driver to stop, I knelt down, thanked God for coming back and kissed the ground.”
“This is my land! I grew up here! And I have never opposed Belarus, I have always protected its interests and will continue to do so, ”he said.
Recalling his Belarusian roots, Kondrusiewicz noted that although he spent most of his time as Archbishop abroad, he always cared about Belarus, “because it is my homeland.”
“This is probably my cross,” he said, referring to his exile, during which he said he had closely followed political developments in Belarus.
Belarus has been plagued by tense and sometimes violent protests since Lukashenko’s disputed re-election for a sixth term on August 9. Since then, the country’s opposition leaders have been forced into exile and thousands have taken to the streets in ongoing protests in which protesters including Catholic clergy and laity have been beaten. and imprisoned.
At one point, police barricaded the doors of the Church of Saints Simon and Helena in Minsk and hours later arrested protesters who had taken refuge inside as they left the structure.
Kondrusiewicz, in his comments to the press, thanked Pope Francis for intervening on his behalf and told Catholics in Belarus that at Christmas the social and political upheavals of recent months “should not diminish the importance of this holiday, because it is a celebration of an important event that changed the history of the world. Jesus Christ came in the light.
Almost immediately after his brief press conference, Kondrusiewicz celebrated Christmas Eve Mass twice at the Arch-Cathedral of the Most Holy Name of Mary in Liberty Square, with the first service being celebrated in Polish and the second in Belarusian.
He also celebrated two Masses on Christmas Day at the Church of Saints Simeon and Helena, one in Belarusian and a second in Polish.
In his Christmas Eve homily, Kondrusiewicz focused on the need for Christ and his message of peace and reconciliation amid current global and national crises.
The challenges facing the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and those specific to Belarus, he said, “have both shown the fragility of the modern world order and its vulnerability and exposed the problems spiritualities of modern man “.
“The coronavirus has changed the usual way of life in the modern world and made us think about the place of God and man in our lives and our human history,” he said, noting that the political woes of Belarus have “become a new challenge” which should inspire Christians to “pay more attention to God and to keep the law of God”.
“How different our homeland and our lives would be if we lived according to the law of love for God and neighbor! he said. “If only they could forgive themselves! If, being different, were united by concern for the common good!
The difficulties linked to the coronavirus and the turmoil in the country should also be a call to return to a real sense of religiosity ”, that is to say a recognition that humanity is made for more than simple earthly satisfactions.
“Today we must ask ourselves: is there a place for Jesus in our hearts? Kondrusiewicz said, adding: “It makes no sense to be sentimental that under normal epidemiological circumstances the doors to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and our churches are broken by a large influx of people so that there is no room in our hearts for the same Jesus.
Christmas is a special holiday, he said, noting that the doors of militant atheism adopted during the reign of the Soviet Union have finally “opened to Christ.”
“We got freedom, including religion,” Kondrusiewicz said, but lamented that “we quickly forgot that freedom is not only a gift but also a responsibility. As a result, they were delighted with the golden calf of material prosperity, pleasures and unlimited freedom without moral responsibility, and began to worship him.
Recognizing that Christ is needed for his problems to be resolved is both important and relevant for modern Belarus, he said, referring to the months of socio-political crisis the country has endured.
“Our peaceful and tolerant homeland has divided and turned into a springboard for confrontation, which is very dangerous,” he said, adding: “No wonder Christ says that a divided kingdom has no future. “
To have a happy future, we need a quick return to the evangelical principles of forgiveness, reconciliation and love for God and neighbor, he said, adding that this is only possible “if we allow Jesus to be born in our hearts by his grace “.
For the common good, “we cannot afford to be enemies,” he said. On the contrary, “It is necessary to be united in dialogue. No wonder the Holy Father Francis in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti affirms that a constructive dialogue is always possible between dissidents, thanks to which the country thrives.
Kondrusiewicz then urged Catholics to heed the call of Saint John Paul II to open the doors of their hearts to Christ, “and to learn from him love and forgiveness remain relevant today”.
“So, dear brothers and sisters, let us open the door of Jesus, who was born through the ministry of the Church, and that he visits us,” he said. “Do not be afraid to open the door of your hearts to Christ! Give it a place in them! He takes nothing, only grants his saving grace and his hope! “
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