THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN KAZAKHSTAN

Iakov TROFIMOV


Iakov Trofimov, Ph.D. (Philos.), professor, Karaganda Bolashak Institute of Actual Education (Kazakhstan)


The September 2001 visit of the Pope to Kazakhstan kindled an interest in the place and role of the Catholic Church in Kazakhstan and the present and past of Catholicism in the republic. The interest was great because Kazakhstan is a country of Muslim majority while the Russian Christian Orthodox Church with the second-large following looks at the republic as its canonical territory. A large share of the population regards Islam and Christian Orthodoxy as two official and traditional religions. Before discussing the results of the visit let us look into the past of Catholicism on the republics territory.

The Past

Christianity reached Central Asia in the third-fourth centuries; the fifth and sixth centuries saw an accelerated penetration of Christianity planted by Nestorians and Jacobites. Historical sources say that Nestorianism was especially popular under Patriarch Timothy (780-820) when numerous Turks baptized. In fact the Nestorian idea of Christ as a human being that was nearly the Deity was close to the Islamic interpretation of Christ. This explains why the Nestorian churches survived for a long time in the Islamic environment.

Catholicism first betrayed itself in Kazakhstan in the thirteenth century. There is no need to say that the Nestorians being convinced that their interpretation of Christianity was the only true one met the Catholic missionaries with enmity. There were several missions that, on the instruction of the Roman pontiffs, visited the Great Khans (the 1245 mission was headed by Giovanni da Pian del Carpine; the 1253 mission, by William of Rubruk, there were other missions, too). In 1330 (other sources give the date of 1294) Franciscan missionaries compiled a Latin-Persian-Turkic dictionary Codex Cumanicus.

The Nestorians who enjoyed great influence at the khan courts were actively resisting Catholicism. Despite this, it was spreading fairly fast. Early in the fourteenth century Almalyk (now the village of Khorgos of the Almaty Region), the capital of the Chagatai ulus became a diocese with Bishop Carlino de Grassis as the head (he died in 1328). The diocese survived till 1339 (or 1342) when Ali Sultan destroyed the Franciscan monastery in Almalyk. Bishop Richard of Burgundy died a martyr death. Father Gregor Prikhodko, who is working in the Vatican secret archives, has published some of the results of his studies of that period.1 These researches are obviously intended to prove, in detail and with the use of documents, that the Catholic Church in Central Asia and Kazakhstan can also be regarded as traditional.

In the fourteenth century Catholicism, together with Nestorianism, was pushed out of Kazakhstan by Islam. It reappeared on the territory of Kazakhstan in the middle of the nineteenth century. At that time, and in the early twentieth century, the first Catholic communities consisted of exiled Poles punished for their participation in the 1830-1831 and 1863-1864 Polish uprisings. They were sent to Siberia and then moved to Kazakhstan. The Catholic communities were also growing thanks to German Catholics and Latvians who migrated to Kazakhstan from European Russia. The Catholic believers, who mainly lived in the north of Kazakhstan, were served by priests of the Omsk deanery: for a long time they did not have either churches or chapels. The Catholic parishes were part of the Mogilev archdiocese. It was in the early twentieth century that cultic buildings appeared. According to archival documents, on 20 February, 1901 the Ministry of the Interior informed the archbishop: The Governor-General of the Steppe Gubernia informed us of the request of the representatives of Catholics of Petropavlovsk, Akmolinsk Region, S. Wonsovic, K. Dobrowolski, and R. Klopotowski to allow them to build a prayer house (capella) in Petropavlovsk. The governor-general also reported that there were 205 Catholics in Petropavlovsk and near it, not less than 300 Catholics in the Kokchetav and Ishim uezds and expressed his opinion that the request should be gratified. The bishop of the Omsk and Semipalatinsk Christian Orthodox Church of Russia agreed. The newly formed Catholic community was made part of the Omsk deanery.2

It was in the wake of Manifesto on Religious Tolerance that Nicholas II signed on 17 April, 1905 that the number of Catholic parishes increased; they became more active. The Catholics no longer needed permission of the Christian Orthodox Church to open their parishes. They built prayer houses in Jarkent (Panfilov, Semirechie Region), Kopal (Taldy-Kurgan, Semirechie Region), Verny (Almaty, Semirechie Region). Later Catholics organized parishes in Semipalatinsk, the Pridorozhniy settlement (Alekseyevskaia Volost, Ural Uezd), the village of Kellerovka (Alekseyevskaia Volost, Kokchetav Uezd, Akmolinsk Region, etc.). In 1911 the Catholic parishes of the Ural Region became part of the Tiraspol episcopate.

They had many members: before the 1917 October revolution, for example, there was a parish of 3 thousand Catholics in Petropavlovsk; in the settlement of Ozernoe, Kustanai parish, there were 3,342 German parishioners, formerly of the Tiraspol diocese and about 300 to 400 Polish parishioners.

After the October revolution the parishes were destroyed, the clergy and most active believers arrested. Many of the parishes were closed down because the Polish parishioners returned to Poland and Ukraine. On 27 May, 1922 priest Senvaitis wrote to the archbishop: The latest information: three echelons of people, mostly my parishioners, were sent back home from Petropavlovsk. The Sunday mass is attended by 2 or 3 people who will leave next; there are several straw Catholics. We need a younger priest in my place.3

Soviet power forcibly displaced peoples and ethnic groups. As a result the number of Catholics in Kazakhstan increased mainly thanks to the Germans deported from the Tiraspol Region and Volga Region, about 100 thousand Poles moved away from the towns of Zuk, Kamenets, and Zhitomir, and Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians deprived of their homes. There were members of the clergy among the deported.

Naturally, it was impossible to organize normal religious activities in the new places: for a long time people had to pray in secret, at night, often without priests. Authorities persecuted such sessions without mercy. Here is an example: Iosif Keller was the first priest who came to this territory (Karaganda) in 1936. He conducted his salutary work at night, and worked for only three months. He was called to the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs and, when he refused to cooperate, was imprisoned. Nothing was heard of him since that time.4 This was a fairly common story.

The story of Fr. Tadeush Fedorovich was one of the few lucky exceptions to the rule. In 1939 he voluntarily followed his exiled parishioners from Lvov to Kazakhstan where he was arrested, later amnestied and served at the Polish grammar school in the Bolshaia Bukon village. When the Second Polish Division of Armia Ludowa was formed, he was called to serve as a chaplain. He came to Poland together with it.5

Late in the fifties the Catholic communities tried to legalize their religious activity but met with firm official resistance. For over 20 years the Karaganda community headed by Greek-Catholic Bishop Alexander Chira, priests Władysław Bukowiński and Albinas Dumblauskas was trying to legalize itself. Victory came in 1977 in the form of an official registration and a permission to build a church. The church was completed in 1978.

In 1958-1959 there were first attempts to officially register a parish in Tselinograd: the faithful bought a house and gathered all the necessary documents, but the initiator was falsely accused of bribing officials. He was arrested, the house confiscated. It was as late as 1979 that the community registered itself, bought premises and converted them into a church. There are many more examples.

Dynamics of the Number of Registered Catholic Churches in Kazakhstan

Year 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1982 1984 1990
Number of communities 1 1 2 7 9 11 18 35 42

The Catholic Church in the Independent Republic

Democratization of public life and the 1992 Law on the Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations considerably extended the rights of the believers and religious associations and ensured freedom of conscience. It created favorable conditions for normal functioning of the religious associations in the republic and provided the right to conduct religious propaganda.

At the same time the republic experienced an outflow of people of Slavic and German extraction and of other European origins.6 This created problems for many Christian (mainly Catholic and Protestant) communities. For example, in 1982, 99.5 percent of the believers in the Catholic community of Alma-Ata were Germans (the figure for Kazakhstan was 91.0 percent). In ten years about 700 thousand Germans left, which placed many communities on the brink of disappearance. Migration was a gradual process, the time lag was used for missionary efforts. As a result, the number of Catholic communities increased and their ethnic composition changed.

These results (more of them below) were made possible thanks to the efforts of Kazakhstani priests who relied on strong spiritual, material, and personnel support of the Holy See. From the very beginning of democratic transformations in the country the Vatican displayed a great interest in strengthening the positions of the Catholic Church there. Back in 1989 Pope John Paul II granted an audience to the prior of the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Karaganda Father Albinas Dumblauskas.

Later, in 1991, the Holy See instituted an Apostolic Administration of Kazakhstan and Central Asia in Karaganda; the prior of a parish in Krasnoarmeisk, the Kokshetau Region, Jan Pawel Lenga was made a bishop and appointed Apostolic Administrator.

The Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan registered the Administrations rules as late as June 1996. This bureaucratic delay was caused by the ministrys unwillingness to violate the Law on the Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations (Art 7:4) which says: The religious associations in the Republic of Kazakhstan with the governing centers outside the republic can follow their rules (charters) if these do not violate the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan and if their rules (charters) are registered with the Ministry of the Republic of Kazakhstan. On the strength of this the ministry insisted that it should register the rules of the spiritual center, that is, the Constitution of the Vatican. It took Jan Pawel Lenga many years to explain the absurdity of this demand. The situation does not interfere with the Administrations activity, yet created certain problems. (It should be added that the Ministry of Justice does not ask the Russian Orthodox Church to register its rules though its spiritual center is also found outside the republic.) In 1997 the parishes of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan were removed from the Administrations competence and received the sui iuris status, which means that they became independent.

In 1999, the Apostolic Administration of Kazakhstan was divided into the Karaganda diocese and three new Apostolic Administrations (Astana, Atyrau, and Almaty). It should be said that the Russian Orthodox Church with over 233 parishes and much more faithful has only three dioceses. Obviously, the Apostolic Administrations that, according to the law, are temporal structures will be either transformed into dioceses with larger numbers of communities and the faithful or to discontinue their existence. The Catholic Church obviously hopes for the best.

On 3 October, 1994 the Vatican and Kazakhstan signed a diplomatic agreement under which the Vatican sent Archbishop Marian Oles, Nuncio (now serving Nuncio in Slovenia and Macedonia), to Almaty. On 16 December, 2001, on the day of the republics ten years of independence the Apostolic Administration was opened in Astana. The Vatican embassy moved from the old to the new capital; this signified that the Holy See sincerely wanted stronger ties with Kazakhstan.

In 1998 the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Holy See signed an agreement on relationships ratified and enacted on 30 July, 1999. Kazakhstan is the first CIS member in Asia that signed such an agreement Art 1 of which says: The Parties acknowledge mutual freedom in the exercise of their rights and powers and commit themselves to respect this principle in their mutual relations and in their cooperation for the good of people. The Catholic Church finds Art 2 to be of special importance: The authorities of the Republic of Kazakhstan shall grant residence permits to members of the Catholic Church from abroad appointed for service in the particular Churches or other institutions of the Catholic Church in the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan, for the whole period of their assignment, in conformity with the existing legislation because the republic has few acting Catholic priests. The document recognizes the juridical capacity of legal persons for Archdioceses, Dioceses (Eparchies) or Apostolic Administrations, Parishes, Religious Communities, Missions, Associations, Seminaries, Colleges, Schools and Educational Institutions, after their registration with the organs of justice (Art 3). Under Arts 9-10 the Catholic Church acquired the right to engage in social (public), sanitary, and charitable activities, to express freely its views and principles, including its right to make use of the mass media (Art 11); the sides acknowledged their mutual interest in the development of relations in the field of culture (Art 12).

On the whole, the documents main provisions do not give the Catholic Church any advantages over other religious associations. Art 2 is the only exception, yet the bureaucrats of the Republican Department of Visas and Registration and its regional branches are doing their best to limit the number of members of the clergy entering the republic. The agreement fixed the rights of the Catholic Church it enjoyed under the Law on the Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations. What is important is the fact that the agreement was signed: it may serve the Catholic Church a legal guarantee of its rights if the law is changed. Under Art 4:3 of the Constitution of Kazakhstan the international treaties ratified by the Republic have a priority over its laws and are applied directly except in those cases when the text of the international agreement indicates that it requires a law for its application.

Between 19 April and 14 May, 1998 the Vatican held the Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops. Its results were published in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia of the Holy Father John Paul II to the bishops, priests, and deacons, men and women in the consecrated life and all the lay faithful on Jesus Christ the Savior and His mission of love and service in Asia: that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

The document is a program for the third millennium. It main idea was formulated in the Papal Address to the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) held in Manila in 1995: Just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent.7 This means that in the new millennium Christianity should become the main religion in Asia, too, including Siberia and Mongolia.

The Church talks about the need to apply new missionary efforts in Central Asia, especially in view of newly created possibilities there. It should be noted that in this context Kazakhstan has acquired a special role because of its geopolitical situation and a larger number of Catholic communities than in other Central Asian republics (six in Uzbekistan, one in Kyrgyzstan, one in Tajikistan, in Turkmenistan Catholics cannot form an official community because of an undemocratic law on religious associations). It should be stressed that the Church is talking of missionary activities alone because Catholic proselytism (an object of numerous violent attacks of Russian Orthodox Christian hierarchs) is banned. Canon 31 of the Code of Canon Law of Oriental Churches says: Nobody should grow bold enough to force, in one way or another, anybody dedicated to Christ to transfer to another Church of his law. Priest I. Iurkevich explains: The canon is not a mere religious expostulation but an earnest ban that relates, first and foremost, to the entire Latin Church. Canon 1465 of the Code threatens with an adequate punishment for all those who, while performing pastoral service in one of the Churches of his law, will force those loyal to Christ to transfer from one Church of his law to another.8

By its activity in Asia the Catholic Church graphically disproves what Christian Orthodox theologian O. Slavin says: The Orthodox Christian world is spiritually and qualitatively equal to the Orient while Catholicism is a purely Western phenomenon. The etiological formulas that underlay the division of the churches in 1054 should acquire a geopolitical nature.9 The author is convinced that there can be no demarcation between Christian Orthodox and Catholic expanse. The global nature of the Catholic Church with over 1 billion followers scattered across all continents shows that there can be obstacles on the road of ideas and that no territory can be declared ones own canonical expanse.

New organizational structures and active assistance of the Vatican bore fruit. Today there are 90 Catholic communities in the republic as against 42 in 1990; 68 of them are officially registered. There are 160 visiting groups with three bishops and over 60 priests: they are Poles, Italians, Germans, Americans, a Spaniard, a Korean, and a Swiss. Many of them, including two bishops, have no Kazakhstani citizenship. They came to the republic to serve in the new parishes: at least one third of the communities have no permanent priests.

Today, over 15 monastic congregations are working in Kazakhstan; in June 2001 there were 72 nuns working in the republic. Members of the Personal Prelature Opus Dei have been working in Kazakhstan since 1997.

The church is using various languages: Russian, Ukrainian, German, English, and Polish. Ethnic composition of the believers is widening: Germans and Poles pray side by side with Ukrainians, Russians, Koreans, and people of other ethnic affiliations (there are people of over 20 nationalities among the Catholics). There is a Church Court of Justice functioning in Almaty, the single court for all Catholics in Kazakhstan. It is a special religious instance that examines church disputes, divorce cases, etc. The Catholic clergy, together with numerous missionaries from Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the U.S., Italy, and South Korea are actively working in the republic in numerous groups for children, young people, and adults functioning at churches that study Catholicism, prepare for baptism, first communion, and marriages. Some of the communities have kindergartens and summer camps for children, organize youth festivals, and pilgrimages on foot. In June 2000, Karaganda hosted the First All-Kazakhstan Meeting of Catholics timed to coincide with the celebration by the Catholic Church of the Great Jubilee of 2000. For three days, about 3,500 people prayed together and participated in cultural programs. Clergy and the men and women in the consecrated life serving in Kazakhstan and abroad participated together with the laity. In August 2000, 100 young Catholics from Kazakhstan participated in pilgrimage to Rome to meet the Pope on the occasion of the Universal Day of Youth.

Almaty, Karaganda, Kokchetav, Astana, Kostanai, and other cities received new churches; today only three regional centers (Kzyl-Orda, Uralsk, and Aktau) have no Catholic temples. New churches are being built mainly with the support of German and Polish churches. The church in Pavlodar, for example, was paid for with donations from all sorts of German religious organizations (the Munich and Cologne dioceses, Kirche in Not, Missionsprokur Nurnberg and French society Ren Trois). Renovabis, a German charity organization, gave three prefabricated churches that were erected in Karaganda, Temirtau, and Lisakovsk (the Kostanai Region). The Faith and Reason center, opened in 2000 in Shchuchinsk (Astana Administration), is used for common prayers, spiritual exercises, conferences, etc. It has dwelling premises, a chapel, and a canteen. Other Apostolic Administrations and the Karaganda Diocese will receive similar centers.

In 1995, while consecrating Kazakhstan to the Virgins intercession Bishop Jan Pawel Lenga declared the village of Ozernoe (the North Kazakhstan Region) a republican sanctuary, that is, the main pilgrimage center.

In 1997 the first High Spiritual Seminary under the patronage of St. Maria-the Mother of the Redeemer was opened in Karaganda. On 1 June, 2001 it had 20 students. There are students from Kazakhstan in seminaries in Russia, Italy, Poland, and Austria.

The Roman Catholic Church is engaged in wide-scale charities by helping the sick, disabled, and senior citizens; it runs refectories for the poor and free pharmacies. In Almaty it set up an outpatient clinic where a highly skilled doctor from South Korea is practicing acupuncture. So far, this is the only officially registered medical institution under church patronage working in the republic. It has already treated over 2,000 patients. In Talgar (the Almaty Region) the church opened a home for disabled, in Kapchagai, there is an orphanage at the local church. In 1997, Caritas (an international charity organization) branch started functioning in the republic as a public fund that helps the destitute and teaches English and Italian free of charge; it also runs computer courses. In 2000 an AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) society was set up in Karaganda.

There is a Christian St. Lorenz primary school in the village of Korneevka (the North Kazakhstan Region). It was opened on 1 September, 1996 and is now being transformed into a Christian secondary school. Renovabis and voluntary donations pay for the Credo monthly with a circulation of 5,000 published in Karaganda.

In 1998 the Catholic Church opened a monument to the victims of repressions in the form of a 12 meter-high cross set on the Volynskaia hill in the North Kazakhstan Region at the village of Ozernoe (the Kellerovskiy District). This was one of the major events in the life of the Catholic Church in Kazakhstan. The cross carries impressive words:

Glory to God,

Peace to all People,

Heaven to the Martyrs,

Gratitude to the People of Kazakhstan,

Prosperity to Kazakhstan.

Greek Catholics, mainly of West Ukrainian extraction, willingly attend Roman Catholic services. Stefan Prishlak, Iosif Shaban, and Aleksei Zaritski were the first Greek Catholic priests in Kazakhstan. On 27 June, 2001, during his visit to Ukraine the Pope beautified Fr. Aleksei Zaritski.

The remains of St. Martyr Bishop Nikita Budka (1877-1949), also beautified by the Pope during his Ukrainian visit, are buried somewhere in the Karaganda area. On 11 April, 1945, the bishop was arrested together with all other Greek Catholic bishops and sentenced to eight years of forced labor. He died on 1 October, 1949 in the camp of Karazhar; the place of his burial is unknown.

There are three communities of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (in Astana, Pavlodar, and Karaganda) officially registered in the republic. There are several small communities in the villages around these cities. In 1997 the first Greek Catholic Church was opened in Karaganda (before that Greek Catholics attended Roman Catholic services or prayed in private houses). In 2001 Kirche in Not partly paid for a chapel. The church was consecrated by a Greek Catholic bishop, Exarch of Kiev and Vyshgorod, the Apostolic Visitor for the Greek Catholics of Central Asia and Kazakhstan Vassili Medvit (Ukraine) with the participation of Nuncio Marian Oles, Bishop Jan Pawel Lenga and priests. In 2001 Pavlodar got a Greek Catholic church. The service is conducted in Ukrainian. There is a Greek Catholic Sisters Servant of Mary Immaculate Convent in Karaganda.

Visit of John Paul II

Kazakhstan was the 127th country Pope John Paul II has visited during his pontificate. Significantly, the influential newspaper NG-religia published in Moscow listed the visit among the ten signal events of 2001. I absolutely agree with this assessment.

The state visit of John Paul II to Kazakhstan took place on 22-25 September, 2001, that is, less than two weeks after the tragedy of 11 September. This added a special meaning to his visit: it was an effort to oppose the attempts to divide the Christian and Islamic civilizations. The very first moments of the Holy Father on the land of Kazakhstan in the airport of Astana were very significant. President of Kazakhstan greeted the Pope with the words: In your person Kazakhstan greets on its land the spiritual leader who calls on all mankind to look into the future together, to develop the dialog of cultures and civilizations, to deepen personal relations We appreciate, Your Holiness, that in the wake of the terrorist acts in the United States you called on mankind not to accuse nations, races, or religious communities of this monstrous acts and warned the world about the danger of Islamophobia. Islam, like all other traditional religions, preaches peace and harmony. Billions of Muslims throughout the world are engaged in peaceful creative labor. I completely support your ideas full of wisdom and humanism.10

By this visit the Pope emphasized once more the universal nature of the Catholic Church, its striving for cooperation in the name of peace on earth and protection of human rights together with followers of other religions and with atheists and free thinkers. No wonder the people of Kazakhstan positively assessed the visit. NG-religia wrote: The results of sociological polls are eloquent enough: about two-thirds believe that the visit is of immense importance for the republic. Only 13 percent believe that the visit is of importance for the Catholics alone. Only 5 percent agreed that the visit caused perplexity.11 The Grand Mufti of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Chairman of Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kazakhstan Absattar-Kazhy Derbisaliev made the following important statement: I believe that the Papal visit to Kazakhstan will draw closer all the peoples living in our country, including the Christians and followers of other confessions, not only the Muslims. The Pope is an envoy of peace, he is a scholar, philosopher, theologian, poet, and playwright. I believe that the visit will remain in the memory of our multinational people for a long time to come.12

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II was of a different opinion. He described the visit as a continued Catholic expansion to the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchy. It was in conformity with this position that the Orthodox Christian clergy ignored all events related to the Papal visit. It seems that President Nazarbaev had this in mind when he said: Catholicism in Kazakhstan has a long history. There is a lot of new information that sheds light on the events related to nearly one thousand-year long correspondence between the Vatican and khans and other rulers of the states that existed in the territory of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The Catholic Church is not an alien reality brought from outside. It continues and enriches the cultural and spiritual relations that started developing in the distant past.13

Upon arrival in Astana the Pope paid a visit to the memorial to the Victims of Repressions where he, in reverend silence, laid a wreath. Later, having returned to Rome, he said: Who can forget that hundreds of thousands were exiled to Kazakhstan? Who can ignore the fact that its steppes were used to test nuclear weapons? This is why I visited the memorial to the victims of the totalitarian regime as soon as I arrived in Kazakhstan. I wanted to stress that the future has a new road. Kazakhstan and its polyethnic society reject nuclear armament and want to work for a society of solidarity and peace.14

The Holy Mass the pontiff conducted on the Square of Motherland was the central event of the Papal visit. It was attended by over 20 thousand pilgrims from Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Poland, Lithuania, and other countries. The republican government set up two tent settlements for them. For safety the entrance to the square was sealed off at nine, the Mass started at 10:30 , thousands of people left outside could listen to the broadcasted Mass. People of different nationalities and convictions were driven to the square by a sincere desire to see and hear Pope John Paul II, the head of the city-state Vatican who for 23 years of his pontificate was preaching peace and harmony among nations. The Pope selected the words by Jesus Christ This I command you, that you love one another (John, 15:17) as the key motif of the Holy Mass.

President Nazarbaev aptly expressed a general impression produced by the pontiffs sermon: I listened with great attention to the Holy Mass and was deeply touched by your words. I totally agree with you: civilizations should follow the road of harmony and consent. I highly appreciate the fact that you addressed not only the Catholics but also the followers of all other religions to remind them that there is only one God and we should also be united.15

The Pope met the youth in the Lev Gumilev Eurasian State University, he also met cultural figures, prominent artists and academics, spent some time with the presidents family and the republics government. Talking to the youth, John Paul II said, in particular: I am here to inspire you I want to encourage you to create a single world and to do it every day by making creative contribution by your revived hearts. Your country relies on you and expects much of you in future. The future of your Nation is determined by your choice. Kazakhstan of tomorrow will have your face! Be courageous and have no fear and you will not be disappointed.16 In all his speeches and addresses John Paul II repeated that he was professing, with humility and pride, the faith of Christians, the faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth: For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim., 2:5, 6)

The state visit of the Pope was at the same time a pastoral visit to the Catholic community of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Three cardinals, 18 bishops, four apostolic administrators and priors of the sui iuris Mission from Rome, Lvov, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia as well as 172 priests, 6 deacons, 27 seminary students, 12 monks and 99 nuns came to Kazakhstan to meet the Pope. The Holy Father served the Holy Mass together with the clergy, the monks and nuns, and the seminary students. In his sermon he instructed them: Remain always true to the God of life and then you will all together restore His living temple which is the church Community present in this vast Eurasian region.17 The Pope formulated the same task at the meeting with the bishops, apostolic administrators and representatives of the sui iuris Mission in Central Asia: Let the priority pastoral tasks of your apostolic mission be indefatigable propaganda of the Gospel and incessant work to strengthen the church organization.

The republican media and mass media of many other countries described the preparations for the visit, the visit itself and its results in detail. There was a direct TV transmission of the pontiffs public appearances. As a result of the visit Kazakhstan increased its international prestige on the tenth year of its independence. The visit allowed many people to cast aside their daily cares and think about God, eternity, the meaning of life, and the soul. They opened their hearts to true spirituality.

The visit strengthened the relations between Kazakhstan and the Vatican; the Order of Pius awarded to President Nazarbaev was a graphic confirmation of this. The order was created on 25 December, 1957 by Pope Pius XII to be awarded to secular figures, mainly heads of state. In the past 50 years only 15 people received it, former U.S. President George Bush Sr. and King Juan Carlos II of Spain among them. President Nazarbaev received the order and the deed of knighthood from Nuncio Marian Oles in December 2001.

The visit opened a new stage in the life of the Catholic Church in the republic: inspired by the visit, the clergy, the monks, and the laity have stepped up their activity inside the communities and outside them. The process that had unfolded while the republic was readying for the visit became much more active. The prestige of the Catholic Church in the republic also increased. There is no doubt that these two factors will result in a greater number of followers and, probably, of communities. This should not be taken to mean that Kazakhstan will become a Catholic state. It is equally unlikely that the positions of the Christian Orthodox Church will be weakened.

So far, nobody knows how the amendments introduced into the Law on the Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations will affect the activity of the Catholic Church in the republic. The amended law requires that all foreign missionaries be officially registered and that each of the foreign religious associations set up a republican center of its own. One hopes that with the help of the Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Holy See mentioned above the Catholic Church will overcome the new obstacles.


1 See: Father Gregor Prikhodko, Istoria khristianstva v Kazakhstane i Srednei Azii v srednie veka, Father Andrzej Szczęsny, Ottsy Tserkvi. Ottsy nashikh ottsov. My deti nashego Ottsa, Karaganda, 2000, pp. 135-182.

2 See: Stranitsy istorii tserkvi. Prikhod v g. Petropavlovske, Credo, No. 6 (71), 2001, p. 21.

3 Ibidem.

4 Father Andrzej Szczęsny, op. cit., p. 354.

5 Kniga pamiati. Martirolog Katolichsekoi tserkvi v SSSR. Compiled by Father B. Chaplitski, I. Osipova, Serebrianye niti Publishers, Moscow, 2000, pp. LI-LII.

6 See: T. Klimova, Migration Trends in Kazakhstan, Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 3 (9), 2001, pp. 173-184.

7 John Paul II, Address to the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, Manila (15 January, 1995), 11, Insegnamenti XIII (1995), p. 159.

8 Priest Ivan Iurkevich, Kanonicheskoe pravo o Narode Bozhiem i o brake, Istina i Zhizn Publishers, Moscow, 2000, p. 193.

9 Quoted from: Olesia Blagopoluchnaia, Mezhdu latinskoi mitroi i turetskim tiurbanom, NG-religia, 27 November, 2001.

10 Da liubite drug druga. Special issue of Credo, 2001, p. 5.

11 Vizit Papy Rimskogo v Kazakhstan, NG-religia, 26 December, 2001.

12 Da liubite drug druga, p. 27.

13 Ibid., p. 5.

14 Ibid., p. 3.

15 Ibid., p. 14.

16 Ibid., p. 17.

17 Ibid., p. 19.


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