09/13/2022, 21.38
VATICAN – KAZAKHSTAN
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In Kazakhstan pope calls for a new spirit of Helsinki, to transcend opposing blocs

In his first address in Nur-Sultan, the pontiff appealed to world leaders. Like John Paul II after 9/11, his visit is meant to plead for “all those who cry out for peace”. For him, “what is needed is understanding, patience and dialogue with all.” Replying to a reporter’s question, he says he is “ready to go to China.”

Nur-Sultan (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis arrived in Nur-Sultan for the start of an apostolic journey that will see him spend three days in Kazakhstan and take part in the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions organised by the Kazakh government.

After the welcoming ceremony at the airport and a private meeting with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the pontiff delivered his first speech, addressing the authorities, civil society representatives, and the diplomatic corps at the Qazaqstan Central Concert Hall.

In his address, he said that, “Now is the time to stop intensifying rivalries and reinforcing opposing blocs.” To this end, leaders are needed who can “give birth to a new ‘spirit of Helsinki’ that can help people engage in dialogue and understand each other.”

Pleased to be “in this land as vast as it is ancient”, he came “as a pilgrim of peace, seeking dialogue and unity. Our world urgently needs peace: it needs to recover harmony.”

Harmony as in musical harmony, which ran through the speech, in particular the dombra, the country’s national string instrument, part of “a glorious history of culture, humanity and suffering.”

“How can we fail to recall in particular the prison camps and the mass deportations that witnessed, in the cities and in the boundless steppes of these regions, the oppression of so many peoples? Yet Kazakhs did not let themselves remain prisoners of these injustices: the memory of your seclusion led to a deep concern for inclusion.

“In this land, traversed from ancient times by great displacements of peoples, may the memory of the sufferings and trials you endured be an indispensable part of your journey towards the future, inspiring you to give absolute priority to human dignity, the dignity of every man and woman, and of every ethnic, social and religious group.”

The dombra with two parallel strings embodies the "two souls, Asiatic and European,” making  Kazakhstan a place where East and West meet. Furthermore, citing the country’s approximately 150 ethnic groups and more than 80 languages, with their distinct histories, culture and religious traditions, he described Kazakhstan as “a unique multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious laboratory”.

Noting that “A healthy secularity, one that acknowledges the important and indispensable role of religion and resists the forms of extremism that disfigure it”, he expressed appreciation for the “abolition of the death penalty in the name of each human being’s right to hope.”

Above all, he stressed the importance of guaranteeing “freedom of thought, conscience and speech" and supporting “democracy, which constitutes the most suitable form for translating power into service to the entire people and not simply to a few.”

The pontiff also referred to the process launched by President Tokayev after street protests broke out at the start of the year triggered by economic hardships in certain regions despite the country’s vast energy resources. “This is a meritorious and demanding process, and certainly not a short-term one, that requires persevering towards the goal without turning back.”

Indeed, “Democracy and modernization everywhere must be more than fine words; they must be embodied in concrete service to people: a ‘good politics’, born of listening to people and responding to their legitimate needs, constant engagement with civil society and nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations, and particular concern for workers, young people and the more vulnerable sectors of society. Every country in the world likewise needs measures to combat corruption.”

Some 20 years ago, John Paul II came to Kazakhstan to spread hope right after the tragic attacks of 2001. “I am visiting you in the course of the senseless and tragic war that broke out with the invasion of Ukraine, even as other conflicts and threats of conflict continue to imperil our times. I have come to echo the plea of all those who cry out for peace, which is the essential path to development for our globalized world. And this is peace: a path of integral development for our globalized world.”

In light of this, Francis expressed support for dialogue and reaching out, “since nowadays the problem of one is the problem of all, and those who hold greater power in the world have greater responsibility with regard to others, especially those countries most prone to unrest and conflict.

“This should be our concern, not merely our own individual interests. Now is the time to stop intensifying rivalries and reinforcing opposing blocs. We need leaders who, on the international level, can enable peoples to grow in mutual understanding and dialogue, and thus give birth to a new ‘spirit of Helsinki’, the determination to strengthen multilateralism, to build a more stable and peaceful world, with an eye to future generations. For this to happen, what is needed is understanding, patience and dialogue with all. I repeat: with all.”

Pope Francis also spoke about this during the flight that took him from Rome to Nur-Sultan. To a journalist who asked him about the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be present tomorrow in the Kazakh capital and about a possible meeting, the pope replied: "I know nothing about that, but I'm always ready to go to China.”

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