CNA Staff, Nov 14, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic bishop celebrated Mass Friday in memory of a protester reportedly beaten to death by security forces in Belarus.

Bishop Yuri Kasabutsky celebrated the Mass for Raman Bandarenka at the Cathedral of the Holy Name of St. Virgin Mary in Minsk, Belarus, Nov. 13.

Amnesty International said that on Nov. 12 Bandarenka was beaten by unidentified masked men who were removing protest flags and ribbons in his neighborhood in the capital, Minsk.

After the beating, Bandarenka was taken away in a police van. Hours later, the 31-year-old artist was admitted to hospital with head injuries and a collapsed lung. Despite surgeons’ efforts to save him, he died at the hospital.

During the Mass, which was livestreamed, Kasabutsky urged Catholics to pray for the repose of Bandarenka’s soul.

“Being human, especially today, is not an easy task. We and the whole world are watching with horror what is happening in our country,” the auxiliary bishop of Minsk-Mohilev archdiocese said, according to the website of the Catholic Church in Belarus.

Amnesty International said that, following a disputed presidential election in August, Belarusian authorities had unleashed gangs of masked men in plain clothes on peaceful protesters.

“They are widely believed (and often confirmed) to be security officers. None have been officially identified or prosecuted,” the human rights organization commented.

Kasabutsky noted that Bandarenka’s death had shocked the country. He praised the solidarity that Belarusians had shown towards one another since the protests began. He said that national unity was the best tribute that citizens could offer Bandarenka and other victims of repression.

The European Union threatened to impose new sanctions against Belarus following the “shameful” death of Bandarenka.

“This is an outrageous and shameful result of the actions by the Belarusian authorities who have not only directly and violently carried out repression of their own population, but also created an environment whereby such lawless, violent acts can take place, thus ignoring not only the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Belarusian people but also disregarding their lives,” a spokesperson for the EU’s diplomatic service said in a Nov. 13 statement.

“The European Union expresses its deepest condolences to Mr Bandarenka’s family and friends. The EU stands in solidarity with all the Belarusians who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of the Belarusian authorities in the aftermath of the Aug. 9 falsified presidential elections.”

The EU previously imposed sanctions on 55 individuals it holds responsible for violent repression and intimidation following the election, in which the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory with 80% of the vote. His challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, fled the country afterwards, fearing imprisonment.

Tsikhanouskaya offered her condolences to Bandarenka’s family.

“He became a victim of the regime’s inhumanity and terror for just being an active Belarusian thriving for freedom,” she wrote on Twitter Nov. 12.

The crisis following the disputed election has engulfed the Catholic Church in Belarus — the second largest religious body in the country after the Orthodox Church — and also drawn in the Vatican.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, president of the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference, was prevented from returning to the country on Aug. 31.

The archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev had spoken out in defense of protesters and said he feared the country was heading towards civil war. He prayed outside a prison where detained protesters were reported to have been tortured and also demanded an investigation into reports that riot police blocked the entrance to a Catholic church in Minsk.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, visited Belarus in September in an attempt to resolve the impasse. But Kondrusiewicz remains barred from his homeland.

Earlier this month, Lukashenko, who has served as president of Belarus since the role was created in 1994, received the Holy See’s new ambassador to the country, Archbishop Ante Jozić.

The state-owned new agency BelTA reported that Lukashenko told the nuncio that Belarus and the Vatican enjoyed “special relations.”

“On the international arena, together we consistently promote such important initiatives as combating human trafficking, combating violence against children, and protecting traditional family values,” he said.

He added: “We count on the consolidating and constructive role of the Catholic Church in Belarusian society.”

Read More: CNA Europe News