Belarusian Catholic Leader Returns After Forced Exile

The Catholic archbishop of Minsk is in Belarus for Christmas after authorities lifted a four-month ban on his entry to the country amid massive anti-government protests.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the leader Belarusian Catholics, was denied entry on August 31 as he returned from a trip to neighboring Poland.

The 74-year-old spiritual leader was barred from his homeland after he criticized the crackdown on protests against the contested reelection of strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The archbishop was allowed to return after an envoy from the Vatican met Lukashenka last week in Minsk.

“When I crossed the border, I knelt down and prayed, I kissed this land," Kondrusiewicz said in comments on December 24, adding that "the Fatherland cannot be thrown out of the heart."

“This is my land. I grew up here, I want to be here, I want to serve here. And I have never opposed Belarus, I have always defended the interests of Belarus and I will continue to do so,” the metropolitan said.

Kondrusiewicz was able to lead Christmas Eve mass at Minsk’s main Cathedral.

Catholicism is the second largest religious denomination in Belarus, after Eastern Orthodoxy.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service and