Catholic Church in Kazakhstan: 'A small flock blessed by the blood of martyrs' (Photo)

The Catholic community has about 150 thousand faithful; in the territory religious of 20 different nationalities reside, for a total of 120 priests and 130 nuns. The event that marked the rebirth of the Church after the Soviet persecutions was the apostolic visit of Pope John Paul II in 2001. Archbishop of Nur-Sultan: "We look to the future with hope".

Nur-Sultan (AsiaNews) - A "small flock" blessed "by the blood and tears of millions of martyrs" of Soviet persecutions: this  is how Msgr. Tomash Peta, Archbishop of Nur-Sultan (new name of Astana), describes the Catholic Church of Kazakhstan.

Speaking to AsiaNews he outlines the main characteristics of a young Church, composed of about 150 thousand faithful. A Church "small in number", but lively, active, international and with a strong devotion to Mary. A Church that still prays in Russian, even if the national language is Kazakh. "This year we published the first religious book in Kazakh. The hope - he says - is to be able to translate the missal by the end of 2019".

Bishop Peta is the pastor of the Archdiocese of Santa Maria di Nur-Sultan. The national Church gained freedom after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2003 the Episcopal Conference of Kazakhstan was created, composed of the dioceses of Nur-Sultan, Karaganda (led by Msgr. Adelio Dell'Oro) and of the Holy Trinity of Almaty (led by Mgr. Jose Luis Mumbiela Sierra); in addition, there are the apostolic administrations of Atyrau (governed by Fr Dariusz Buras) and that of the Byzantine rite Catholics in Kazakhstan and Central Asia (led by Fr Vasyl Hovera).

The country enjoys religious freedom: "We can build churches, chapels and monasteries. We invite priests and nuns from all over the world. At the moment, religious of 20 different nationalities reside in the territory, for a total of 120 priests and 130 nuns. The Catholic Church is recognized thanks to an Agreement (a sort of Concordat) between the Holy See and the Republic of Kazakhstan. In the capital there is also the Apostolic Nunciature, with the Nuncio Indian archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt ".

Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, with a population of 18 million inhabitants. The archbishop reports that "70% professes Islam and 20% is Russian Orthodox Christian. There is also a small community of Lutherans and many Protestant groups ". The demographic composition "of the Kazakh steppes was marked by forced deportations of the 1930s and 40s. For this reason, after independence obtained in 1991, at least four million people emigrated. Of these, 500 thousand Catholics ".

The Catholic Church was marked by an important event: "The pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II in 2001 (22-25 September). It took place 11 days after the attacks against the Twin Towers in New York. The journey showed the world a living Church: at the mass celebrated in Astana there were 40 thousand people. Without exaggerating, I can say that the papal visit opened a new chapter in the history of our Church. From that moment, every three years a Congress of religious representatives of all faiths is held in the capital. "

The pontiff's journey was also an opportunity to raise the Marian shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace to the national sanctuary, in the village of Ozyornoye. Here, “next to the great Cross erected at the top of the hill, the youth gathering has been held since 1999. The meeting is very important because it offers them the opportunity to deepen the Christian faith and reflect on their future, on marriage and the family ". On the cross is an inscription, in memory of the victims of communist repression: "To God - honor. To men - peace. To the martyrs - the Kingdom of heaven. To the people of Kazakhstan - gratitude ".

Since 2014, the village of Ozyornoye has also hosted an altar for worship, named "The Star of Kazakhstan". It reflects one of the main characteristics of the Catholic community: the strong Eucharistic adoration and in particular devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Msgr. Peta reports: "In the years of Soviet domination, when Catholics were forced to live without churches, priests and sacraments, Catholics created a sort of eighth sacrament: that of the prayer of the Rosary. The reason is that the only thing they could do during the persecutions was to baptize their children and pray the Rosary. In some ways, the Rosary has replaced the lack of the shepherds ". Today, he concludes, "Kazakhstan is a blessed country, perhaps thanks to that blood and those tears of millions of martyrs. We thank the Lord and look to the future with hope ".