10/06/2021, 11.21
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A new Catholic Bishops Conference of Central Asia is born

by Vladimir Rozanskij

It will gather the Catholic communities of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Kazakh Church consecrated to the special protection of St. Joseph. Steps have been taken to open the process for the beatification of Gertrude Detzel, a consecrated Kazakh laywoman who was persecuted in Stalinist concentration camps.






Moscow (AsiaNews) - The new Catholic Bishops' Conference of Central Asia has been founded, which will bring together Catholics from all the former Soviet countries of the region: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. These are minority Churches, in nations with a Muslim majority and with the significant presence of the Russian Orthodox Church, which are still  very Russified realities after the long Soviet rule.

At the 41st plenary session of the Bishops' Conference of Kazakhstan, held on September 20 and 21, local bishops expressed their joy at the creation of the new regional body by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

The  Auxiliary of Karaganda, Msgr. Evgenij Zinkovskij (see photo 2), the first native bishop of Kazakhstan, born in 1975 in the village of Šortandy, then still part of the USSR was also participating in the meeting. The apostolic nuncio, Indian Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikat was present to offer congratulations. The nuncio has been following relations with Kazakhstan and Tajikistan since 2016, assisted by Italian secretary Fr Michele Tutalo, who recently arrived in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan.

Kazakhstan is the largest of the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia; it has 15 million inhabitants and Catholics are estimated at about 250,000. There are the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Mary Most Holy in Astana, led by Polish Bishop Tomasz Peta; the Diocese of the Holy Trinity in Almaty, with Spanish Bishop Jose Luis Mombiela Sierra; and the Diocese of Karaganda, led by Italian Bishop Adelio Dell'Oro. The apostolic administration of Atyrau also depends on the diocese of Astana, while the Greek-Catholic bishop Vasyl Hovera is in charge of the administration of the Byzantine-rite Catholics of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. 

In the other states of the region, Catholics are gathered in temporary structures, not being numerous enough to justify the presence of dioceses. In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan there are two apostolic administrations: in Taškent there is the Polish Franciscan bishop Msgr. Jerzy Maculiewicz, while in Biškek since 2017 there is the US Jesuit Anthony James Corcoran, a longtime missionary in Moscow. In Tajikistan and Turkmenistan there are two missions "sui juris": in Dušanbe operate the Argentine missionaries of the Incarnate Word, headed by Fr. Pedro Ramiro Lopez; in Ashgabat there is only the parish of the Transfiguration, with the Polish missionary of Mary Immaculate, Fr. Andrzej Madej.

During their meeting, the bishops of Kazakhstan consecrated their Church to the special protection of St. Joseph, according to the indications of Pope Francis' letter, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the apostolic visit of the holy Pope John Paul II. They addressed several topics of pastoral commitment, such as the synodal path in the dioceses, to encourage the participation of all the faithful in the life of the Church. They also discussed the Theological Seminary of Karaganda and the national Caritas, noting the progress of the Catholic information center, the Mediatsentr in Nur-Sultan and the new concept of the Catholic magazine Credo.

The Kazakh bishops also presented the steps taken for the opening of the process of beatification of Gertrude Detzel (see photo 3), a consecrated Kazakh laywoman who was persecuted in Stalinist concentration camps and died in 1971 after leaving a great spiritual legacy to local Catholics. They then approved the Kazakh translations of the main Christian prayers: "Our Father", "Hail Mary" and "Glory to the Father". Kazakhstan is in a phase of transition towards an increasingly widespread adoption of Kazakh in place of Russian, a fact that has generated quite a few disagreements with Moscow.

The Catholics of Central Asia, albeit in the humility and witness of their small communities, are able to make a great contribution to inter-confessional dialogue and to the cultural renewal of local societies. These are realities suspended between various worlds and often various conflicts, but enlightened by the faith and the proclamation of the Gospel of so many believers, in fraternity with the entire population in search of its own religious dimension.

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