Belarusian authorities allowed the Catholic archbishop of Minsk to return home for Christmas after lifting a four-month ban on him entering the country during the ongoing protesting against government actions.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk-Mohilev was denied entry to Belarus on Aug. 31 while returning from a trip to neighboring Poland.
He shed tears on his return, calling for unity, reconciliation, and forgiveness during his country's continuing political upheaval, Cruxnow reported.
"The Apostolic Nunciature express its gratitude to the State Authorities of Belarus for responding positively to Pope Francis' request to return Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord with the faithful of which he is pastor," the Vatican's diplomatic representative in Belarus said Dec. 22.
The Belarus authorities had invalided the 74-year-old Kondrusiewicz's passport, and border guards had blocked him from returning to Belarus from Poland.
The archbishop had spoken in defense of protests following a disputed presidential election, and protestors have called for new elections.
Since then, the country's opposition leaders have been forced into exile. Thousands have taken to the streets in persistent demonstrations in which protestors, including Catholic clergy and laypeople, have been beaten and jailed.
At one point, police barricaded the doors of the church of Saints Simon and Helena in Minsk and, hours later, arrested demonstrators who took refuge inside as they left the structure, Crux reported.
Widespread protests have beset Belarus following the disputed Aug. 9 presidential poll in which the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko was declared to have won with 80% of the vote.
Electoral officials said that the opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, earned 10% of the vote. The opposition claims that she gained at least 60% of votes, Catholic News Agency reported.
Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since the position was created in 1994.
He has suggested Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, who also is also believed to have Polish ancestry, might be a citizen of more than one country.
An envoy from the Vatican had met Lukashenka earlier in December in the capital Minsk before the entry ban was lifted.
Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the apostolic nuncio to the United Kingdom, acted as a special envoy of Pope Francis to Lukashenko, delivering a letter on Dec. 17.
It had a request regarding Archbishop Kondrusiewicz.
Archbishop Gugerotti was an apostolic nuncio to Belarus from 2011 to 2015
Kondrusiewicz noted that while he has spent the bulk of his time as an archbishop abroad, he always held Belarus close to heart, "because this is my Motherland," Crux reported..
"When I crossed the border, I knelt down and prayed, I kissed this land," Kondrusiewicz said Dec, 24, noting that "the motherland cannot be thrown out of the heart," said Radio Free Europe.
"This is my land. I grew up here; I want to be here. I want to serve here. And I have never opposed Belarus, I have always defended the interests of Belarus, and I will continue to do so," the Catholic leader said.
Catholicism is the second-largest religious tradition in Belarus, after Eastern Orthodoxy.