Belarus appointed bishop of New Minsk while Belarusian Catholics defend themselves

Msgr. Iosif Staneuski, former Auxiliary Bishop of Grodno and Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Belarus, replaces Archbishop Kandrusievich, who was exiled by President Lukashenko for urging the authorities to enter into dialogue with anti-government demonstrators. State media attack the Belarusian Catholic Church.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Mgr. Iosif Staneuski is the new Metropolitan Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev, the highest ecclesiastical authority of Belarusian Catholics. The appointment announced on Tuesday ends the apostolic term of Msgr. Kazimierz Wielikosielec.

The latter took office on January 3, after Archbishop Tadevuš Kandrusievič resigned, who went home after four months of “exile” in Poland. He had asked the authorities to enter into a dialogue with protesters in the hot months of 2020.

On April 14, the 49-year-old Bishop of Vitebsk, Msgr. Aleh Butkiewicz, was appointed the new President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Belarus (CBCB).

The 52-year-old Staneuski is a former auxiliary bishop of Grodno and CBCB secretary, born in Zaniavičy, a village not far from the border with Poland.

This part of the country has the highest concentration of Catholics in Belarus, mostly of Polish origin, like Kandrusievič himself.

Staneuski was one of the first students to enroll in the Grodno Seminary after Kandrusievich reopened it in 1990 before moving to Moscow to become Russian Catholic Archbishop and returning to Minsk in 2007.

After his ordination in 1995, Father Iosif specialized in canon law in Lublin, Poland, and in 2005 became rector of the Grodno seminary.

For the last seven years he worked with the other bishops on national pastoral care and, with Butkiewicz heir, became the first “re-founder” of the Catholic Church in Belarus.

Now he faces a delicate phase in his relationship with the government of President Alexander Lukashenko, who repeatedly accuses Catholics of promoting street protests and acting as “agents” of the hated Poland. batka, “or father of the nation, kept Kandrusievich away from Belarus.

On September 9, a few days before the announcement of the appointment of Staneuski, the Apostolic Nuncio in Belarus, Monsignor Ante Jozič, met with the Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makej.

In a statement at the meeting, the State Department said that “V. Makei reaffirmed a traditional commitment to the further development of constructive cooperation with the Vatican ”, emphasized the“ inviolability ”of the basis of these relationships.

In addition, the minister stressed the “inadmissibility of incitement to religious intolerance and the importance of maintaining ethno-denominational harmony”.

Makei referred to some of the recent incidents and to relations between (Russian) Orthodox and (Polish) Catholics in general.

In an interview with Catholic.by, a Belarusian Catholic online platform, Nuncio Jozič spoke about the meeting, warning that “the Belarusian authorities will not allow any action aimed at inciting hostility towards members of other religious communities”, confirming the veiled threats made by Makei and Lukashenko themselves .

The meeting took place after Belarusian Catholics became embroiled in a public controversy. State newspaper a few days earlier Minskaya Pravda published a cartoon of some Catholic priests on its website.

The drawing showed priests singing a patriotic hymn to the “mighty God” (Mahutny Boža) with the white, red and white flag of the Lukashenko protesters, claiming that these symbols are related to the collaboration with the Nazis during World War II.

An article next to the cartoon attacks Catholics for their complicity with the Nazis.

The cross on the priestly robe was depicted as a swastika, while a cloud over the priests carried an icon of the martyrs of Kuropaty, a tragedy of 1943 that continues to spark heated debates today.

Although the cartoon was later deleted, the controversy continues. Indeed, the Belarusian Catholic bishops reacted immediately.

In a very harsh declaration they beat “the enemies against the Roman Catholic Church in Belarusian society, against its leaders and priests, and above all against the cross of Christ the Redeemer, who gave his life for the salvation of people”.

The Holy See did not publicly endorse the testimony, and the nuncio did not speak about the incident during the meeting with Makei, which led to criticism.

The new archbishop faces a very difficult mission; in it he will have to try to protect his flock in the midst of the fiery fields of what is now Belarus.

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