Belarus Offers to Be a Host for Papal-Orthodox Meeting

Belarus' president announced he is willing to be the host for a possible meeting between John Paul II and Moscow's Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.

"I think that we would be able to welcome them quickly here, in Belarus, and I would like the head of the Catholic Church and our patriarch to meet here," Alexander Lukashenko said on television Thursday night.

The great majority of Belarus' 10.3 million inhabitants are Orthodox. Their church obeys the Moscow Orthodox Patriarchate. Belarus lies north of Ukraine and is bordered by Poland on the west, Russia on the east.

"I know what the Pope's position is; I feel a great respect for this man, and I know he has said that one day he would like to travel to Belarus," the president added.

Relations between the two churches have become increasingly strained since February, following the establishment of four new Catholic dioceses in Russia. The decision resulted in the expulsion from the Russian Federation of an Italian priest and, later, of the Catholic bishop of St. Joseph in Irkutsk, in eastern Siberia.