Updated at 14:03,27-06-2022

Lukashenka meets with Pope Francis in Vatican

By Alyaksey Areshka, BelaPAN

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on Saturday had a 40-minute private audience with Pope Francis in the pontiff’s studio in the Vatican.

The Belarusian leader and the pontiff discussed the relationship between Belarus and the Roman Catholic Church, reported the government’s news agency BelTA.

Mr. Lukashenka and the pontiff talked to each other one-on-one for 25 minutes, BelTA said, noting that the meeting was held in a “very warm and friendly atmosphere.”

Accompanied by his youngest son, 11-year-old Kolya (Mikalay), Mr. Lukashenka presented the pontiff with a wooden copy of the 12th-century Cross of St. Euphrosyne of Polatsk, a handmade wooden model of a carriage, and a holographic icon, which he said unites history and the present.

The pontiff presented Mr. Lukashenka with three documents that he had written about the Gospel, nature and the family. The Belarusian leader promised to familiarize himself with the texts and then send the documents for storage at the Presidential Library.

Pope Francis also presented a picture of an olive tree as a symbol of peace, which he said is in recognition of the mission of peace that Belarus has undertaken, reported the press office of the Belarusian leader.

“Minsk can be a place of peace,” the press office quoted the pontiff as saying.

Mr. Lukashenka invited the pontiff to visit an exhibition of Belarusian icon painting, which opened at a museum in the Vatican on May 18. He also invited Pope Francis to pay a visit to Belarus. “Come to us and you will be given as much health and strength as anywhere else in the world,” he said, according to the press office.

“That was a very private meeting and it passed off very well. It could not be better,” Mr. Lukashenka told reporters following the audience. “We are very close to each other ideologically. We have identical principles and views on the world and development. The principles I adhere to as the president fully coincide with the principles that Pope Francis adheres to. This is what our very heartfelt and warm conversation was based on.”

According to Mr. Lukashenka, the pontiff, “absolutely agrees” that he should pay a visit to Belarus. “He is well-informed about the situation in our country and is well aware of the inter-religious harmony that reigns in our country, and of the situation in the social sphere and the economy.”

“I expressed the thought that it was time for the pontiff to come to Belarus and, together with our patriarch [Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill], meet with our residents,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “I am sure that there will be several million people who would like to see this handshake take place not at an airport in remote Cuba, but in a country that is located at the center of Europe and, thankfully, has not been hit by the cataclysms – the pontiff emphasized this as well – that have happened in post-Soviet republics and East European countries since the breakup of the USSR.”

Mr. Lukashenka had a meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s cardinal secretary of state, following the audience with the pontiff.