08/15/2022, 12.21
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Central Asia Catholic youth festival prepares for Pope Francis

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The first ever gathering with young people from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Siberian Russia was held in Issyk-Kul. They set up six service projects for the elderly and the most abandoned, for children and underprivileged families of the "Warm Lake" mountains. 

Issyk-Kul (AsiaNews) - The first ever Central Asian Catholic Youth Festival was held in Kyrgyzstan in early August. At the Jesuit center in Issyk-Kul, young people from various locations around the country and also from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Siberian Russia gathered to spend a few days of recreation and prayer, also in preparation for Pope Francis' visit to Kazakhstan in September.

After the two-year hiatus due to the anti-coronavirus restrictions, the young Catholics started meeting again, and this time 60 of them were able to be together for a joyful and intense sharing experience. The meeting was mainly dedicated to the rediscovery of Christian identity and a sense of belonging to the Church. Priests and catechists shared their experiences, and offered themes for meditation, which then flowed into small group and assembly discussions.

The ultimate goal of the Festival was the development of a shared program for social and charitable service in the parishes and places of residence of the participants. Everyone proposed initiatives and ideas, showing much creativity and an unconventional approach to the issues. The result of the groups' work was the presentation of 6 projects with concrete suggestions and service ideas for the elderly and the most abandoned, for children and families in need, and for youth in general. The projects will then be professionally vetted to define their purposes, contexts, target groups, hoped-for results, effectiveness, available budget and time frame.

Beyond the reflections, work and discussions, the young people had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature in Issyk-Kul, as the Jesuit center is located 100 meters from the shore of the "Hot Lake" (this is the meaning of the name of the location), a huge salt water basin located between the Kungey Alatau Mountains in the north and the Terskey Alatau Mountains in the south, part of the Tian Shan mountain range, the second largest mountain lake in the world, after Lake Titicaca in South America. The main feature, as the name suggests, is the lake's pleasant temperature, which does not freeze even in the coldest winters.

Indeed, an important part of the festival was the three-day mountaineering event, which for many of the participants was a challenge and an exciting experience, so much so that many asked to repeat it as soon as possible. The Jesuit fathers have been at work in Kyrgyzstan since the 1990s, with a very dynamic community made up of experienced and young missionaries, constantly moving and changing between communities in Central Asia and Siberia.

In July precisely in Issyk-Kul the first session of the "Summer Theological School in Central asia" had also been held, which gathered twenty participants selected by the local Ordinaries and coming from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Courses on History of Christianity in Central Asia, Introduction to Moral Theology and Sacred Scripture, and Issues of Christian Anthropology were offered in Russian; not only academic lectures, but also a fruitful exchange of knowledge, questions and opinions. A number of Catholics from Tajikistan were also to attend the School, however unable to come due to tensions on the Kyrgyz-Tajik borders. It is hoped that they will be able to join at the next session.

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