10/03/2017, 13.56
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The Russian Patriarch in Uzbekistan, a symbol of Islamic-Christian coexistence

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The new orthodox cathedral consecrated in Tashkent. In Samarcanda, the patriarch visited the tomb of the prophet Daniel, worshiped by Christians and Muslims. In the country there are 2239 religious communities of 16 different confessions, with at least 50 Orthodox churches. Lukashenko proposes a new meeting between Pope Francis and Kirill in Minsk.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - On October 1, Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundjaev) made an official visit to Uzbekistan to celebrate the 145th anniversary of the establishment of the Orthodox Eparchy of Tashkent, the capital of Central Asia's most populous nation. The Russians have close ties with the Turkish-Mongolian populations of these countries, who from rulers at the time of the Tatars, were dominated by Russians in the 19th century and Soviet times, with Uzbekistan being one of the 15 republics of the USSR.

The Russian minority, almost 2 million out of 27 million people, is the most important in size after the Uzbek people, and alongside ethnicities from other countries. It is an important part of the "Russian world" for which the Moscow Patriarchate is pastorally responsible outside its own borders, and is largely found in the former Soviet republics where an intense Russification policy was conducted . At the official ceremony held in the Turkestan Palace in Tashkent, the head of the Russian Church met with the widow of President Islom Karimov, who led the country from the end of the Soviet Union until his death just a year ago, and his successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev , elected last December after serving as long-time prime minister and Karimov’s main right hand man.

The previous day, visiting the historic city of Samarkand, the patriarch knelt before the relics of the prophet Daniel, located in a city mausoleum and revered by Christians and Muslims. According to local tradition, the prophet inspired preacher Kusama ibn Abbas, protagonist of the city's conversion to Islam.

Good relations between Orthodox and Muslims

During the visit, Kirill praised the good relations between the local orthodox and the Muslim majority, inviting the people of the country to safeguard peace in interreligious relationships and to be an example for all. "This capacity for reciprocity is not easy to maintain," said the patriarch during the consecration of the new Tashkent cathedral - "in many countries there are bloody conflicts between religions, which complicate coexistence in society... That is why we must to have particular regard for the social and inter-religious cohesion of a country where religions learn to cooperate with each other. "

According to government data, there are 2239 religious communities in Uzbekistan of 16 different confessions, including some fifty Orthodox churches.

Kirill acknowledged that this favourable condition would not be possible without the active support of the political institutions, guaranteeing equal opportunities for all confessions, orthodox as well as Muslims. This means that the Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian citizens of Uzbekistan not only actively participate in the life of society, but are also exemplary orthodox, showing the evangelical and dialogic face of the Christian faith. At the same time, in front of representatives of the Uzbek institutions, the patriarch pointed out that the Orthodox Church has no pretence of interfering in the political life of any country: "The testimony of faith in our Church - he said – has never been an instrument to pressure or spread of our influence among people ... If we compare the orthodox mission to that of some Western confessions, which has often been accompanied by violence, oppression and pursuit of political ends, we have never attempted to affirm our faith on anyone, not even on our own faithful. "

There should be no hidden agendas in the witness of Orthodox faithful, which "would soon be discovered" and would contradict the Gospel. The Russian Church seeks only to assist its faithful, though "it is not a national community, nor a political order or a representative of another state." In it there is room for everyone, the patriarch has said, and it is ready to collaborate with any state and with its institutions. Kirill's words seemed to be addressed also to other countries, in particular the Ukraine, of the "enemy" Poroshenko, with whom there has been an ongoing  exchange of accusations of interference that further poisons the conflict between the two Slavic countries Eastern.

Lukashenko’s proposal

Meanwhile, just as Kirill visited Central Asia, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, leader of the third "orthodox" nation, said he was following the process of dialogue and collaboration between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic church. Speaking at the plenary of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), which met recently in Minsk, Lukashenko recalled the 2016 Cuban meeting between Kirill and Francis, hoping it would be possible to repeat such a meeting in a place that is not too distant, maybe in Minsk. In Belarus, the collaboration between Orthodox and Catholics is very fruitful; the Catholic Church has nearly 2 million faithful out of 10 million inhabitants, over half of whom are Orthodox. For the president, Belarus is "the ideal country to discuss the problems of East and West, North and South and all over the planet."

The Holy See did not comment on Lukeshenko's proposal, but some Orthodox representatives agreed with the president. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has also found space for mediation in the capital of the white Russia, with those "Minsk agreements" that have so far stopped the degeneration of the clashes, and which everyone wishes return to in order to finally reach a lasting peace.

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