Belarus Halting Worship Services
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MINSK/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Belarusian authorities have ended “unlimited, free of charge rental agreements” with at least four Catholic churches as part of a larger Belarus government crackdown, investigators say.
Religious rights group Forum 18, which has intimate knowledge about the situation, told Worthy News that Catholics met in buildings that were technically still in state hands.
Authorities reportedly said that in exchange for signing a new rental agreement, the churches “would eventually” be able to resume using their historical buildings rent-free.
However, “We were told that if we don’t sign the new agreement, the church will be given to the museum,” said a Catholic linked to Corpus Christi Church in the city of Nesvizh in remarks shared with Worthy News.
The Catholic, who was not identified amid security concerns, added that “we’ll be allowed to worship there only once a week.”
Authorities of the country’s autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko told the Catholics that if they pay monthly rent for between 6 months and five years, “at some point in the future,” they would be allowed to return to their historical buildings rent-free.
Officials declined to give more details about their targeting of the Corpus Christi Church, the Co-Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the St Stanislaus in Mogilev and the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in Bobruisk.
Few historic places of worship – some but not all Catholic – remain in the state’s possession. Catholics didn’t request the return of these properties in the 1990s when Belarus gained independence from the then Soviet Union.
“Subsequently, many of these religious communities have repeatedly but unsuccessfully applied for ownership to be restored to them,” Forum 18 said.
Among other incidents, the capital Minsk’s Church of Saints Simon and Helena, locally known as the Red Church due to its brickwork, was reportedly closed by the government.
Catholic parishioners “who want to pray, and attend Mass and other religious services” aren’t welcome since a suspicious early-morning fire in September 2022, Forum 18 said, citing local sources. “The authorities later cut off electricity, heating, and running water in the adjacent priest’s house.”
The tensions come as Lukashenko continues to crack down on perceived threats to his nearly two decades in power, including dissidents and devoted Christians, rights activists suggested.
Earlier, Belarusian security forces detained thousands of people and “systematically subjected hundreds to torture,” explained advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
The attacks followed the disputed August 9, 2020, presidential election, Worthy News established.
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