April 27, 2009
. Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, met with Pope Benedict XVI on Monday on his first visit to Western Europe after more than ten years of diplomatic isolation from the West.
Among the topics discussed during the 25-minute audience with the Pope, were Belarus’ domestic issues as well as issues relating to the Catholic church in Belarus.
Lukashenko has long been accused of suppressing human rights in his former Soviet republic. But icy relations with the West are starting to thaw. His meeting with the Pope and with members of the Italian government are an important first step, as improving relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church could be the first step toward bridging Belarus with Europe.
Although Belarus is about 60 percent Orthodox Christian and 14 percent Catholic, the faithful are faced with laws that restrict religious freedom, such as limiting the number of foreign priests.
Lukashenko made the visit to the Pope with his 5-year-old son, Nikolai, and ended the meeting with an invitation to the Pope to visit Belarus, maybe for the first meeting between a Pope and a Moscow Patriarch.