09/21/2007, 00.00
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Young People in central Asia : torn between the idols of materialism and the faith

Regional Church leaders speak out. Catholics are a minority of 0.4%, but active. The fascination of materialism’s false idols on poor populations and the need to witness the faith in daily life. Bishop of Astana: progress promotes false models, that are unrealistic and impossible.

Astana (AsiaNews/Ucan) – The spreading of consumerism in central Asia is a grave obstacle to the faith of young Catholics, torn between their aspirations to material goods and the daily practise of their faith.  Speaking with UCA News Archbishop Tomasz Peta of Mary Most Holy archdiocese, based in Astana, observed that  “Progress is a problem" referring to unrealistic expectations and inappropriate role models,  because youth will never have the kind of life that “a small and better-off group of society enjoys". The archbishop said he regards youthful aspirations for "a better life" as natural but also as an obstacle to their deep profession of faith. By following these empty models “we can have everything we want, but still not be living”: we need to say “enough and begin living with Jesus”:

The leaders of the Catholic community in Central Asia, which comprises 0.4 percent of all the region's people, say there is a struggle between materialism and faith among the young. The issue was addressed at a Central Asia Catholic youth meeting, held Aug. 11-15 at the Marian Shrine in Ozernoe Village, 500 kilometers north of Astana, Kazakhstan, attracting 450 participants aged 20-30.

Oblate Father Tomasz Koszinski, one of just two priests in Turkmenistan, applauded the recent meeting as an opportunity for young Catholics to gather together because "they see they are not alone”. Diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Turkmenistan were formed in 1996, but the Catholic Church still is unregistered in the country. About 50 people normally gather for Sunday Mass in the chapel of the apostolic nunciature.

Father Carlos Avila, an Incarnate Word priest who leads the Church's mission in Tajikistan, cited poverty as the main problem people must grapple with in that country. He said that young people stop going to Church because they have to migrate to Russia and other countries to work or for permanent residence. Ordinary people have no future, even if they have a decent education, because the Muslim-majority country is divided into clans. Civil war in 1992-1994 between the pro-Communist government and a Muslim opposition devastated Tajikistan. The many Europeans who fled the violence at that time included 3,000 ethnic German Catholics, Father Avila noted, and people are still leaving, so Tajikistan's Catholics now number only 250.

Bishop Jerzy Maculewicz, apostolic administrator in Uzbekistan, points to alcohol addiction and the problems of broken families that negatively affect young people. Such a situation typifies Uzbekistan's small cities, while young people in Tashkent, the capital, and other big cities are focused on making a living. Even so, the bishop said he is happy that youths in Uzbekistan are not so "ungovernable and undisciplined" as in Europe. The meeting in Ozernoe helped them "learn the experience of faith from others and new ideas”.

The Catholic community in Kazakhstan, the largest among Central Asian nations, numbers about 250,000. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan each officially have close to 500 Catholics, Tajikistan has about 250. Before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Apostolic Administration of the 5 nations was focused in Karaganda (Kazakistan). The sui iuris (self-governing) missions of the other nations were separated from it in 1997. In 1999, Pope John Paul II raised Karaganda to a diocese and made Almaty, Astana and Atyrau individual apostolic administrations. In 2003, he elevated Astana to an archdiocese and Almaty to a diocese, and also honored Bishop Jan Pawel Lenga by making him an archbishop. In 2005, he raised the sui iuris mission in Uzbekistan to an apostolic administration.


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