Bracing for the Worst in Belarus

Strict Legislation on Religions Would Complicate Life of Catholic Church

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MINSK, Belarus, OCT. 2, 2002 ( The Belarusian Parliament approved amendments that would make its religious law one of the most repressive in Europe.

The legislation, which prohibits the registration of religious communities that were not established during the Soviet era, was adopted overwhelmingly today by the upper house, 46-to-2.

If President Aleksandr Lukashenko sanctions the new norm, all religious activity not registered administratively, will be outside the law.

The purpose of the draft law is to favor the establishment of the Orthodox Church, Stanislav Buko, the president of the state Commission for Religious and National Affairs, told Parliament.

«The law takes into consideration Belarusian tradition, which needs to protect itself from new cults and sects,» he said.

The text of the law recognizes «the determinant role of the Orthodox Church both in the historical destiny and spiritual and cultural development as well as in the traditions of the Belarusian people.»

According to the text, the possibility of publishing texts and of imparting religious education is limited to confessions that have 10 registered communities, one of which was registered before 1982. At that time, the Communist regime did not recognize many Christian communities, including the Greek-Catholics.

About half of Belarus’ 10.1 million people are avowed believers. Of those, 80% are Orthodox, 14% are Catholic and 2% are Protestant, according to the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences.

Last weekend, during a congress organized by the Charismatic Renewal in Czestochowa, Archimandrite Sergiusz Jan Gajek of Minsk, of the Greek-Catholic Church of Belarus, warned that the new law would make the Church’s evangelization efforts in Belarus extremely difficult.

«We are used to clandestinity and persecution, but we do not want them to apply euthanasia or suicide to us. Pray for our witness in former Soviet countries,» said the priest, who is also a consultor of the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches.

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