The apostolic administrator, Mgr Jerzy Maculewicz, highlighted the events that marked the life of the Catholic community in 2018, as well as the challenges and hopes for the future. At Christmas Muslims also came to Mass to receive the blessing.
Tashkent (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church in Uzbekistan "is at the service of everyone, and it is precisely this that attracts people of every religion who seek God," said Mgr Jerzy Maculewicz, apostolic administrator of Uzbekistan.
The prelate spoke to AsiaNews about the main events that marked the year and expressed hope for the future of the local Catholic community, which is not growing much but whose members are strong in their faith.
The community has to deal with emigration to more affluent countries – like Russia and Germany, "which leads to a drop in the number of members – and with the constant need for spiritual training and the lack of priests, which leaves parishes without a pastor."
Despite difficulties, "we look at the future with great hope. We are optimistic and have faith in the ordination of new local priests, in new altar boys, in the education of the laity who can assume greater responsibilities, for example in the distribution of the Communion."
The Catholic community in the Central Asian country is small, notes the bishop, but it is characterised by "a family atmosphere, where everyone knows each other, and help each other as well as others."
The capital Tashkent is home to some 350 Catholics. The country has five parishes with some 11 priests, including nine Franciscans, one bishop and a diocesan from Venezuela. The priests are assisted by three non-consecrated religious and ten sisters of Mother Teresa.
"Our goal is not to leave any community alone. We always celebrate Sunday Mass and the liturgy of the Word. Sometimes a priest can celebrate up to four times a day.”
"The summer was the hardest time because an elderly priest had to take a leave of absence for health reasons and another, for over 20 years in Uzbekistan, asked for a sabbatical. Now one parish has no a priest but we hope that a permanent one will arrive by March."
The local Church, notes the apostolic administrator, is committed first of all "to catechumens and catechesis, to Bible meetings to explain the Gospel message in a non-Christian society and culture, and spiritual training. Every day we preach the Gospel because the homily is an opportunity to deepen our faith. We work with groups of children, young people and adults."
It is a simple, constant commitment, "like that of the women who go to convents to prepare the food because they have no cook. Or like listening without judging people who come to church and just want to talk to the priest, get his advice.”
"It is important that many non-Catholics come to me seeking my advice on things they consider fundamental to their lives, but feel unable to confide in others. Like a young Muslim man who told me he was hurting because he had fallen in love with a young woman, but their union was hampered by her father. He was crying and I prayed for him."
“Many people are attracted by the fact that bearing witness to the Christian faith is open and undemanding to others who have questions about faith and are in search of God.” Such was the case of students who, on a school trip, came to the church and asked questions or the young woman whom the bishop met whilst travelling by train to Samarkand. "We were five in the same compartment: a Muslim woman, two Orthodox women, a nuclear physicist who had read the sacred texts of different religions and me. A discussion followed.”
"The Muslim woman asked questions about the Vatican and the cardinals. One of the Orthodox women, a student, told me she was surprised that visits to Catholic churches are free, as opposed to the services offered by the Orthodox."
With respect to the events that marked the life of Catholics in 2018, Mgr Maculewicz mentioned three of them: "The first, Easter; the second, a three-day meeting centred on prayer, brotherhood and reflection on the theme 'Christian Vocation', which took place in June and brought together a hundred people; the third, the celebration of Christmas, which was preceded by a meeting for spiritual renewal reserved for priests, in which we exchanged the traditional white bread, as a sign of sharing. Many non-Catholics came to Christmas Mass. Everyone wanted to receive the blessing of a priest, even Muslims."
Finally, "This year ten people were baptised, including six children aged 9 to 11 years. Eight people baptised in another Church completed their year-and-half-long catechumenate and performed the profession of faith in the Catholic Church."