Belarus — Belarus' authoritarian president invited Pope Benedict XVI to the mostly Orthodox former Soviet republic, the presidential press service said in a statement Friday.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko made the offer the same day he met with Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is in the country to preside at the weekend consecration of the first Catholic church to be built in the capital city, Minsk, since 1910.
The Orthodox church, which includes about 80 percent of the population, wields significant clout in Belarus through a 2003 agreement it signed with the government.
But the Vatican under Benedict has been pursuing a goal of outreach to the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians. A trip to Belarus by Benedict could move the Vatican and Russian Orthodox Church one step closer to a meeting - and the ultimate goal of healing the nearly 1,000-year schism between the two main branches of Christianity.
Lukashenko is also desperate to boost his reputation ahead of September's parliamentary elections - including hiring a British public relations firm in March to package his policies in for Western consumption.