Recently in Belarus, two Catholic priests from Poland were denied state permission to conduct religious activity. While it appears that indigenous priests and established churches have been left alone, the rejection of these two priests may illustrate Belarus’ intent to keep foreigners out of its religious communities and dealings. If so, future missionaries may also be subject to more difficulty in seeking to minister to the Belarusian people.
By Olga Glace
6/12/2014 Belarus (Forum 18) – Two Polish Catholic parish priests were denied permission to carry out religious activity in Belarus, Archbishop of Minsk-Mogilev Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz announced at a pre-Easter press conference on 15 April. He identified the two as Fr Roman Schulz, who has served in St. Kazimir and Yadviga church in Mogilev for seven years, and an unnamed priest from the Franciscan Order who was going to serve in Ivanets, Minsk Region.
The spokesman for the Belarusian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Fr Yury Sanko, said officials gave no reasons for the refusals. He explained to Forum 18 on 30 May that besides the visa, which is the prerogative of the Interior Ministry, foreign religious workers have to obtain permission to carry out religious activities from the Office of the Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs in Minsk. Such permission is given on the basis of an invitation from a registered religious community.
Vladimir Martynovsky, head of the Religious and Ethnic Affairs Department of Mogilev Region, insisted that the decision not to extend Fr Schulz’s permission to conduct religious work had not been taken locally.
Asked what parishioners should now do given that the state has deprived them of their parish priest’s service, Martynovsky told Forum 18: “They should pray to God. They should apply to their leadership. It’s nothing to do with the authorities.” He then put the phone down.
Fr Sanko confirmed that Fr Schulz can stay in Belarus until his visa expires. “Fr Schulz’s visa will not be prolonged and he’ll have to go back to Poland,” he told Forum 18. “As for the other priest, he hasn’t even come to Belarus…”
Weekday Masses have had to stop in [Fr Schulz’s] church, and services are performed only on Sundays by another priest. The member of the parish noted to Forum 18 that there are two other Catholic churches in Mogilev and parishioners are recommended to go there. “For true believers the personality of a priest should not be important, as they come to church to God.”
The authorities have long expressed an intention to reduce the number of foreigners conducting religious activity in Belarus… In its report for 2013, the Plenipotentiary’s Office proudly remarked that the Catholic Church managed to decrease the number of foreign priests. Asked to comment on this statement, Fr Sanko told Forum 18 that due to the fact that there are two seminaries, the number of Belarusian priests has increased and the need for foreign priests – including from Poland – has diminished.