Karaganda (AsiaNews) - Inaugurated on Sunday, the new cathedral of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, has a "dignified appearance," standing as "an epitaph" and a place of "expiation in honour of the victims" of Communist persecution, as well as a symbol of "evangelisation," this according to a pastoral letter issued by the country's bishops. For the event, the pope during last Sunday's Angelus sent his "cordial greetings" to "Catholics and all citizens of Kazakhstan". The Holy Father appointed Card Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, as his legate to the dedication of the neo-Gothic Cathedral (pictured) of Our Lady of Fatima, "Mary, Mother of All nations."
The cathedral was build on a site know as 'KARKAG,' an anagram made up from the two words: KARaganda and LAGer. The Karaganda Concentration camps covered an area as big as present-day France, "hosting" victims of political and religious persecution that included thousands of Polish, Ukrainian, German, Lithuanian and Belorussian Catholics. With priests among them, an underground Church was organised.
On 19 March 1977, the authorities gave official permission for the first public Mass in the city of Karaganda. It was held in a shack. On 29th June 1980, for the first time in over six centuries, a Catholic Bishop, Mgr Alexander Khira, celebrated the liturgy publically on the soil of Kazakhstan. The last bishop before him was a man named Mgr Richard of Burgundy, who died a martyr's death about the year 1340.
"Taking into consideration the countless numbers of prisoners who passed through the Karlag forced-labour camps, suffering and eventually perishing there, it is fair to say that soil of Kazakhstan has in no other place been so thoroughly soaked in the blood and tears of more innocent victims of Communist repression than here in Karaganda," the bishops wrote in their letter.
Speaking to about 1,500 people present in the church, Cardinal Sodano referred in his homily to the "long period of suffering" of the past.
In describing the new cathedral, he called it a "privileged place where we can publicly worship God, and receive from him light and strength for our journey."
During the function, the prelate called on the Virgin to protect Kazakhstan's Christian communities.
Coincidentally, local authorities gave the Catholic Church permission to build the church on 13 May 2003, anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin of Fatima.