MOSCOW (Reuters) -Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has decided to allow Minsk’s exiled Catholic archbishop to return home after a personal appeal from Pope Francis, the Vatican’s embassy in Minsk said on Tuesday.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz angered Lukashenko by defending the rights of anti-government protesters and was denied entry in August as he tried to return from a ceremony in neighbouring Poland.
The respected Rome-based website Il Sismografo, which specialises in Vatican affairs, posted a photo of a statement from the Vatican’s ambassador in Minsk saying it had been informed by the government that “there are no more obstacles” to Kondrusiewicz’s return.
In the Italian-language statement, the Vatican ambassador, Archbishop Ante Jozic, thanks the government for “responding positively to the request by His Holiness Pope Francis” to allow Kondrusiewicz to return in time for Christmas.
Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey said earlier on Tuesday that Lukashenko had asked officials “to find a solution” to the case out of respect for the pope.
Mass protests demanding Lukashenko leave power erupted after an Aug. 9 presidential election and are still being staged weekly, though their size has diminished amid a crackdown.
A special envoy from the pope met Lukashenko last week. Vatican diplomats have been working for nearly five months to persuade Lukashenko to allow Kondrusiewicz to return, and a senior Vatican source said the Holy See was trying to get him back in time for Christmas.
Belarusians overwhelmingly observe Orthodox Christianity, but the country has small Catholic minorities, observing the Roman rite common in Poland or the Eastern rite found in neighbouring Ukraine.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Philip Pullella in RomeEditing by Andrew Osborn and Matthew Lewis)