Belarus 'Holy Place' for Meeting of Pope, Patriarch


MINSK -- President Alexander Lukashenko proposed Belarus as an "ideal" place for an historic meeting to smooth out long-standing differences between the pope and the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

Lukashenko, in an interview, said he was convinced after meeting both Pope Benedict and newly enthroned Patriarch Kirill that he could help host such talks. He cited what he said was long-standing tolerance between the two faiths in his country as a key factor in facilitating a meeting. The Orthodox faith dominates in Belarus, but Catholics account for about 14 percent of the population.

"Belarus is a holy place, because there are no differences between Orthodox and Catholics. People live here in peace and harmony according to church teachings. And that is what I said to the patriarch and the pope," Lukashenko said.

"Neither of them is against this. But you do need the right conditions. ... This would be the ideal place for a meeting. And if it doesn't happen while I am here, perhaps it will take place after I'm gone. But at least let it take place in this holy, illuminated place," he said.

Lukashenko denied that his efforts to help stage a meeting were aimed at boosting his own standing: "For goodness sake, there is no politics here!"

Lukashenko once described himself as an "Orthodox atheist," but in the interview rejected that label and said he makes regular visits to church.

"I do go to church. And what of it? I've gone to church from the first day I took office. And not because I became a believer straight away or am a believer now," he said. "I go to church because my people are there."



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