Pope accepts invitation to Belarus

Minsk, Jul. 8, 2008 ( - Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) has accepted an invitation to visit Belarus, the Interfax news agency reports.

President Aleksander Lukashenko of Belarus issued an invitation to the Pope in June, during a visit to Minsk by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (bio - news), the Vatican Secretary of State. Although the cardinal did not respond to the invitation, he hinted broadly about the likelihood of a papal visit, comparing his own visit to Belarus to the mission of St. John the Baptist and explaining that he was a forerunner for the Pontiff.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk, the nation's capital, told a national television audience that the Pope had responded favorably to the invitation. "If God allows it, then Yes," he quoted the Pope as saying.

No dates have been discussed for a possible papal visit.

Although the Orthodox Church comprises the largest single religious bloc in Belarus-- and the restrictive religious policies of the pro-Russian government tilt heavily toward the Patriarchate of Moscow-- Catholics constitute the largest minority faith. A papal visit to the country could be seen as a stepping-stone toward a policy goal that the late Pope John Paul II (bio - news) set for the Holy See: a papal visit to Moscow.