07/23/2004, 00.00
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New hope for two parish churches in the Muslim nation

"Aid to the Church in Need" will fund construction

Tashkent (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Two different parish priests in Uzbekistan can now look forward to completing the building of their respective parish churches following a visit by "Aid to the Church in Need" (ACN) officials.

An ACN delegation visited the country between June 25 and 29 to determine the needs of the local Catholic community. A decision was made to fund the building of two parish churches in Bukhara (460 km southwest of the capital Tashkent) and Urgench (720 km to the west). The first one is dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle and is headed by Conventual Franciscan Father Wojciech Kordas. The other one is the Blessed Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, under the stewardship of Conventual Franciscan Father Stanislaw Rochowiak.

Not only are they located in a predominantly Muslim country, which can in and of itself be a challenge, but both are in urgent need of financial assistance to restructure existing but inadequate worship and community facilities.

According to Father Rochowiak before the present building was purchased in 2003, the faithful (who are now about 40) had to meet in a parishioner's home, thereby running the risk of being suspected of sectarianism. Now the parish needs money to turn the existing structure into a two-story building. In fact, what was once a fashion design centre should soon include a chapel, a baptistery, confessionals and other parish rooms on the ground floor, whilst the parish office and the clergy's living quarters should be on the second floor. "If all goes as planned, the Church should be dedicated next year," Father Rochowiak said.

St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Bukhara was registered in March 2002, but the major renovation work required has not yet started because of bureaucratic hurdles in getting the right permits and lack of money. For the time being, the 20-odd parishioners huddle together in a makeshift prayer room at the construction site. Previously, they worshipped in a parishioner's flat.

Tomaszek Marco, one of the two members of the ACN delegation, pointed out that his organisation helps "needy churches build or rebuild church structures. But we never do what the local Catholic Church can do for itself." Neville Kyrke-Smith, Marco's colleague, added that "we came here to view the situation so that we can inform our financial backers about local needs and press upon them how Christians live in this predominantly Muslim country." Mr. Kyrke-Smith added that "for us, it is important to show our backers that they can help people meet Christ by helping them build churches. That is why Bukhara and Urgench are our main concern in Uzbekistan."

Uzbekistan has been independent since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is predominantly Muslim with a population of about 25 million. The number of practising Catholics stands at about 500.

ACN has been active in the country since 1993. In 2003 it donated about US$ 35,000 towards the rebuilding of places of worship.


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