On Tuesday 28 April, the Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Fra’ Matthew Festing, received the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, on an official visit. This was the first European mission in 15 years for the Belarusian head of state, elected in 1994. Lukashenko also met with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican.
Arriving around 11 a.m. at the Magistral Villa, Lukashenko was welcomed by the Order of Malta’s guard of honour which played the two national anthems under the pouring rain. The Grand Chancellor Jean-Pierre Mazery and the Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergey Martynov signed a postal agreement which will become effective on 28 May, bringing to 55 the number of countries which recognise the Order’s stamps.
A visit of special significance which will open up new prospects for the future as the Grand Master stated immediately after the signature of a bilateral agreement stepping up the Order’s health and humanitarian assistance in Belarus.
The two States have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1996, but already at the end of the Eighties the Order’s Polish, Belgian and Italian associations were helping the hundreds of children affected by the Chernobyl disaster in what President Lukashenko called a versatile humanitarian assistance. I was very anxious to make this visit, the President stressed, to thank the Order for all their efforts to mitigate the effects of the disaster by organizing summer visits for the children, providing medical equipment and training health personnel.
The visit ended with a lunch at which the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was also present. Last year, the Cardinal had visited Belarus and yesterday, immediately after the talks between Benedict XVI and Lukashenko, he had once again been invited by the Belarusian President to organize the meeting in Minsk between the Pope and the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill. I think that it is very significant,” Cardinal Bertone said to the Belarusian leader, that the Holy See and the Order of Malta are seated beside you. Because they are pursuing their common mission to bring to the international community and to every part of the world those high ideals of Christian faith that are also part of Belarus’s history, civilization and culture.
Taking his leave, Lukashenko said he hoped that relations between Belarus and the Order could help to strengthen peace and harmony among the different faiths in the country, and that the bilateral relations could develop on the basis of mutual respect and dedication to Christian values.