Claudio Gugerotti on Friday met with Catholic priest Uladzislaw Lazar, who has been held in the detention center of the Committee for State Security for almost five months.
Uladzislaw LazarFor about an hour, Msgr. Gugerotti talked to Mr. Lazar in the presence of an investigator and a representative of the Belarusian foreign ministry who acted as an interpreter, reported catholic.by, the official website of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus.
Msgr. Gugerotti assured Mr. Lazar of the "personal closeness" of Pope Francis and the whole Catholic Church in Belarus, which constantly prays for the arrested priest, the report said.
Mr. Lazar, who looks afflicted by his confinement but sober and resolute, was emotional as he thanked Pope Francis for his support and for passing him a rosary through his visitor, the site said. He said that although the jail experience was occasionally testing, it did not prevent him from having a deep spiritual life. Mr. Lazar reportedly described himself as a patriot who loved Belarus and was hoping for a fair decision in his case. The priest said that he had forgiven those who had caused his sufferings.
Mr. Lazar asked Msgr. Gugerotti to encourage all believers to pray for him and said that he felt the symbolic presence of the Catholic Church though the sound of church bells reaching his cell.
Yury Sanko, acting spokesman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops, confirmed in late July that the Rev. Uladzislaw Lazar, minister of the Holy Spirit Descension Parish in Barysaw, Minsk region, had been held in a KGB jail since the beginning of June.
He said that he did not have enough information to link the arrest of the priest to a statement made by Alyaksandr Lukashenka on July 26 that authorities had recently arrested an officer of a Belarusian intelligence agency who had supplied information to “foreign states” through representatives of the Catholic Church.
In a statement issued on September 12, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Belarus announced that Mr. Lazar was facing a charge of handing over “money and material valuables” to a person accused of spying for a foreign state.
“Today, after much effort and a long wait, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Belarus received information from government agencies about the detention of priest Uladzislaw Lazar,” the statement said.
The priest “was really arrested by the KGB and is being held in the KGB’s detention center in Minsk,” the statement said.
The priest stands accused under Part One of the Criminal Code’s Article 356, which penalizes high treason, and under Part Six of Article 16, which penalizes complicity in a crime.
Apostolic Nuncio Claudio Gugerotti will soon be given the opportunity to personally meet with the detainee, the statement said.
Uladzislaw Lazar, a citizen of Belarus, graduated from Hrodna Seminary and then completed a theological course in Poland. He served in Maryina Horka and Rudzensk, Minsk region, before being appointed minister of the Holy Spirit Descension Parish in Barysaw in April 2013.