Meeting with Belarusan Catholic bishops in the Vatican on April 8, Pope John Paul II. expressed concern over the growing impoverishment of the Belarusan populace and the consequent potential for Soviet nostalgia. Noting the "spring-time revival" of the Catholic church in former Soviet countries, the Pope urged the Belarusan bishops to help overcome "old Soviet ways of thinking" in society and to develop a dialogue with their fellow-Christians of the Orthodox Church in Belarus. (Western agencies, Itar-Tass, April 8) The Pope’s statement represents the first significant, public expression of Vatican interest in current political developments in Belarus.
The country has major Catholic communities: Roman Catholics of Polish ethnicity and Eastern-rite Catholics (Uniates) of Belarusan ethnicity. The Uniate Church was suppressed under Soviet rule and some of its believers were forcibly amalgamated into the Orthodox Church, while others persisted underground and still others more recently joined Roman Catholicism. There exists a certain correlation between Catholicism (of Roman and of Uniate roots) and the pro-independence and reformist groups, in which people of Catholic background are relatively overrepresented. The Lukashenko regime openly privileges the majority church, which is subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate. The authorities have recently become more open in using divide-and-rule tactics against Catholicism: thus last week Lukashenko blamed Catholics and ethnic Poles for causing trouble in society. The Vatican’s statement helps highlight the importance of the Catholic factor in Belarus.
The Ukrainian Government in Do-or-Die Situation.