A spokesman for Belarusian bishops downplayed a police raid on the Minsk Catholic Cathedral, although a prominent lay Catholic warned of arrests elsewhere that this could be a signal for further police action.

“We don’t really know what the police were looking for,” said Father Yuri Sanko, spokesman for the Minsk-based Bishops’ Conference, on July 8, four days after the police arrived at the Minsk Cathedral of the Virgin Mary after Main Sunday Mass. “Although you spoke to the cathedral clergy, no one was arrested or confiscated, and we have not heard of other similar incidents.”

On July 3, President Alexander Lukashenko warned Catholics not to sing the hymn “Magutny Bozha” (“Almighty God”), which is a symbol of protests against the regime.

In a July 7 Facebook post, Auxiliary Bishop Yury Kasabutski of Minsk-Mohilev said police officers complained that the anthem “violated some legal norm” but apparently “didn’t understand” what it meant.

The hymn, composed in 1947, was “first and foremost a prayer for home and people” and was proposed in 1993 by a parliamentary commission as the new national anthem.

“This hymn has also become a prayer used by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants in worship and sung by people who do not identify with any religion,” said Bishop Kasabutski.

“Every prayer is incredibly powerful and can work great miracles. When a particular prayer has great power, the devil will fight with the greatest might to prevent people from using it. “

However, an online editor for the Belarusian Eastern Catholic Church said a church choir leader was arrested with at least 20 others in the western city of Brest after singing the hymn.

“Thankfully, no similar actions have been reported by law enforcement agencies,” Ihar Baranouski told CNS on July 8th. “But the authorities may have decided to test the reaction of Catholics in the capital’s main church in this way.”

In a speech on July 3, the national holiday in Belarus, commemorating the Soviet army conquering Minsk by the German occupation forces in 1944, Lukashenko warned Christians against singing the hymn.

“The pain of the crimes committed during the Great Patriotic War is still in our hearts – yet some people want to turn back history, rehabilitate their grandfathers, and finish the business they started in destroying a sovereign state” said Lukashenko. “They went to the holy places of our statehood under the banner of fascist mercenaries – as our mass media report, they are now trying to pray with this ‘Almighty God’ in churches.”

Father Sanko said the hymn was “not forbidden” and would continue to be sung.

“The president can say what he wants – that’s none of our business,” he said. “This hymn has been sung openly and reverently for decades, and people can have an opinion on it. But it was also sung on state occasions, and no previous government had a problem with it. “

Baranouski noted that although some choirs have refrained from singing the hymn, “everyone in Belarus knows that this majestic religious hymn carries no fascist propaganda at all, so most Catholics have so far ignored the threat from the head of state.”

“They feel it is unnecessary to listen to what they see as illegal state interference in their prayer life and hope that Lukashenko’s recent emotional outburst caused by the general crisis in the country will soon be forgotten.”

The United States and the European Union tightened sanctions against the Belarusian regime in late June in response to human rights violations since Lukashenko’s controversial re-election in August 2020 and the forced landing of a commercial Ryanair flight in May.

In a July 7 statement, the country’s Christian Vision Association said a prominent Catholic priest, Father Viachaslau Barok, who was detained for 10 days in December, fled Belarus after police ransacked his house on July 1 and found him Accused of participation in an “unauthorized public” event. “

It added that Father Barok’s YouTube channel had more than 9,000 subscribers and said his “politically motivated” harassment was aimed at “intimidating all clergy and lay people in Belarus who speak out against human rights abuses, lawlessness and violence”.

“This is a clear interference in the activities of the Catholic Church – it violates the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and expression,” said Christian Vision.