Meeting with Pope Francis

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Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko and Pope Francis discussed the development of Belarus’ relations with the Roman-CatholicChurch at the meeting in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on 21 May.

The meeting of Aleksandr Lukashenko and Pope Francis lasted for about 40 minutes and was mostly held in the one-on-one format. It was very warm and friendly meeting. In the presence of the delegations the sides exchanged presents. The President gave a replica of the Cross of Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk and a holographic icon to the Pontiff. According to the President, this icon unites the past and the present.

Pope Francis, in turn, presented three documents about the Gospels, nature and family protection which he had wrote to the Belarusian head of state. Aleksandr Lukashenko premised to read these papers and to transfer them to the Presidential Library. The Pontiff also presented a picture of an olive tree which is a symbol of peace. In this context, Pope Francis praised Belarus’ peace-keeping mission. “Minsk can be a place of peace,” he said.

At the end of the meeting Aleksandr Lukashenko invited Pope Francis to visit the exhibition of Belarusian icons which opened in the museum of the Vatican on 18 May. He also invited the Pontiff to visit Belarus.

After the meeting with Pope Francis Aleksandr Lukashenko met with Secretary of State of the Holy See Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Cardinal Pietro Parolin accompanied the Belarusian head of state at the museum where Belarusian icons of the 17th-21stcenturies are on display. Aleksandr Lukashenko expressed confidence that it is just the first step in the development of museum cooperation between Belarus and the Vatican.

Aleksandr Lukashenko presented a modern Belarusian icon to the museum and a set of stamps with religious ornaments to Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

At the end of the visit the President of Belarus answered reporters’ questions. The President spoke in positive terms about the meeting with the Pontiff. “It was also a personal meeting. It went very well. As good as it gets. We are ideologically the same. We share similar principles and views on the world order, development. The principles I stick to as the President are the same with the principles of Pope Francis. We had a very cordial and warm conversation,” the President of Belarus said.

“He is well aware of the situation in our country. He also knows well about the inter-confessional concord in Belarus, the situation in its social and economic sectors,” the President said.

“I told the Pope that it is time for him to come to Belarus and meet with our people together with our Patriarch. I am convinced that there will be millions of people who would like to see this handshake not in an airport of the faraway Cuba, but on the land which is the center of Europe and which is, thanks God, is free from the cataclysms (and the Pope emphasized this too) that had shaken the post-Soviet countries and the states of Eastern Europe following the USSR collapse,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

In his words, many priests suggest paying the tribute to the memory of those killed in the First and Second World Wars as the most sacred reason for the meeting. The head of state also noted that this event could be timed to the construction of churches or chapels of various confessions, or their ground-breaking ceremonies. Aleksandr Lukashenko suggested the Trostenets Memorial, where thousands of peaceful residents of various nationalities and confessions were burned during the war, as the venue to the meeting.

Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that the meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia would contribute to the peace process. “In this case, I am ready to invite them to Belarus. I would invite European, Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian churchmen. They could talk to each other and then pray together with millions of believers. I think that it would be a good initiative for the promotion of the Minsk agreement on Ukraine,” the Belarusian leader said.

At the meeting the Pope asked about the situation in the region, especially in connection with the conflict in Ukraine. “I have voiced my position that new initiatives, especially spiritual ones, are needed to improve the situation in eastern Ukraine,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

Aleksandr Lukashenko explained his motives for visiting Italy and the Vatican in an interview with journalists. “Italy has always supported us the most difficult times. Italy and the Vatican (and I thanked them for it) have done a lot to establish normal relations between Belarus and the European Union. We have spent a lot of time on it, especially with the President of Italy. And this is my reason for visiting this blessed and sacred land. I just have to thank these people for the understanding of the events happening in Belarus and for the normalization of these relations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Speaking about the prospects of developing Belarus-Italy cooperation, the President said that they are very good. Positive statements from the leadership of Italy testify to this fact. At present there are proposals and a mutual eagerness to resume previous arrangements of the two sides. The establishment of an Italian industrial park near Brest is one of them.

The President said that Belarus is also interested in Italy’s experience in the development of small and medium-sized enterprises which play a crucial role in the economy. “There was a long talk (with Italy President Sergio Mattarella), and I think that it was a success as far as the prospects are concerned. I am convinced that Belarusian people will see these prospects very soon,” the Belarusian leader concluded.