Belarus denies entry to Indian Catholic priest

July 3, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Belarus, July 1, 2016: The Belarusian government has denied permission for a Catholic priest from Indian to enter the East European nation.Fr James Manjackal, a renowned Catholic charismatic preacher, was scheduled to lead spiritual exercises in a parish in Ross in the Volkovysk district of Grodno region from July 22 to 24.The diocese of Grodno had requested permission for 60-year-old Fransalian priest from India to visit Belarus, but that county’s Plenipotentiary’s Office sent its rejection in April.

Father Cheslau Pauliukievich, the dean of Ross’s Holy Trinity parish, told Forum 18 on June 29 that he had hosted the priest for spiritual exercises twice before without any obstacles. More than 5,000 Catholics had attended the exercises, including Bishop Aleksandr Kashkevich of Grodno.

Grodno diocesan spokesperson, Fr Solobuda, told Forum 18 on June 3 that the denial of permission to Fr Manjackal was unexpected. “He came to Belarus last year without any problems. This time no reasons were ever explained to us,” Fr Solobuda complained.

Forum 18 was unable to find out from the Plenipotentiary’s Office in the capital Minsk why it had denied permission for Fr Manjackal’s visit. The Deputy Head of the religious affairs sector of Grodno Region Executive Committee Skripko put the phone down when Forum 18 called him.

Fr Solobuda said he is hopeful that next year a new application will be accepted and Fr Manjackal will obtain permission to return to Belarus.

Under a January 2008 Council of Ministers Decree, amended in July 2010, the religious activities of foreign citizens invited for religious purposes are regulated by the Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, who is entitled to grant permission to stay in Belarus and permission to conduct religious activities. He may refuse a foreign religious worker’s visit without giving any reason.

Foreign citizens must also demonstrate knowledge of Belarus’ state languages (Belarusian and Russian) in order to perform religious work. The Plenipotentiary defines the period of permission, has the right to shorten it and is not obliged to communicate the reasons for a refusal.

The authorities use this Decree as an instrument to reduce the number of foreign priests. Two years in a row, Plenipotentiary Gulyako criticized Polish Catholic priests for allegedly violating visa regulations, involvement in politics and lack of knowledge of the Belarusian language.

According to the report on the religious situation in Belarus published in 2015 on the website of the Plenipotentiary’s Office, 113 foreign Catholic priests are serving in Belarus, mostly Polish citizens. In 2013, the country had 135 foreigners out of 449 Catholic priests.

Foreign religious personnel of any faith are under tight state restrictions while working in Belarus. The transfer of a foreign religious worker from one religious organization to another – such as between parishes of the same denomination – requires permission from a state official dealing with religious affairs, even to conduct a single worship service.

According to Dina Shavtsova, a Minsk-based lawyer and human rights defender, this regulation prevents a religious organization from choosing its religious leaders freely. She told Forum 18 that Belarus is required to meet commitments under the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Concluding Act of the Third Follow-up Meeting in Vienna in 1989, where the participating states reaffirmed to allow religious organizations to “organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structure” (principle 16.4).

Earlier the Baptists complained that sometimes foreign professors are denied visas and are unable to teach at theological institutions.

The Belarusian government’ also ended 25 years’ parish service by Polish Catholic priest Fr Andrzej Stopyra with no explanation.

On May 15, Fr Stopyra celebrated his last Mass before his enforced departure from his village parish in Lida district of western Belarus.

One parishioner told Forum 18 that Fr Stopyra had been expecting such a refusal for at least five years before he received the document banning his further service in Belarus, signed by the government’s Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, Leonid Gulyako.

Along with permission to conduct religious activities, the priest was also denied a residence permit.

Fr Stopyra had served as priest of Descent of the Holy Spirit parish in the village of Berezovka in Grodno diocese since 1991.

Fr Manjackal was ordained a priest in 1973, as a member of the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. St. Francis de Sales. He worked first as a priest in Visakhapatnam, then came to Ettumanoor, Kerala, to teach in a seminary. He claims he was miraculously healed of tuberculosis kidney.

He began his retreat ministry after 1976, first in his native Malayalam language, then in English. In 1989 he founded “Charis Bhavan” to spread the renewal movement. During his many years of ministry he was repeatedly imprisoned in Arab countries.

– persecution.in

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