By Deborah Castellano Lubov – Nur-Sultan

Sep 13 2022

As Pope Francis prepares to depart for Kazakhstan on Tuesday, our correspondent in Nur-Sultan takes a look at his upcoming participation in the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, as well as the small Catholic community’s great joy to receive the Holy Father.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the immense Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan are preparing and looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis  to their country on Tuesday.

Pope Francis will embark on his 38th Apostolic Visit abroad, marking his 57th country visited and his fourth Apostolic Journey since the beginning of the year.

Working day and night

“They have been working day and night,” Fr. Pawel, a Franciscan priest, told Vatican News during a visit to the pavilion where the Holy Father’s Mass will be held for the nation’s Catholics, though not only Catholics will be present.

According to the rector of the Cathedral where the Pope will meet bishops, clergy, religious, and those pursuing vocations on Thursday, not only the Catholics are greatly anticipating the Mass, but even Kazakhs of other faiths.

To some non-Catholics, Pope Francis is like a father

He says even some Muslims will be there. 

“When I inquired as to their reasoning or interesting in being present, they said to me ‘Pope is Papa.’ He is also like a father to us.”

Joy for Pope’s arrival

This peaceful coexistence between religions, and ethnicities in the Central Asian nation, which is the largest landlocked nation, and the ninth-largest country in terms of landmass, can be witnessed all around.

Therefore, it seems appropriate this pacific, immense and sparsly-populated country, therefore, would be appropriate to host the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, in an effort to promote peace and interreligious dialogue, especially as various wars and conflicts rage in the world.

On the streets, even if it were not very obvious a papal trip would be taking place, people still expressed their happiness for the Pope’s visit, including a young Muslim man who said he senses goodness in the Pope and appreciates Kazakhstan for its peaceful co-existence between religions.

A tried but peaceful, persistent people

It goes without saying that the Holy Father will also encourage the nation’s Catholics. 

When we were present for the papal Mass preparations, not even the start of pouring rain prevented the young volunteers from enthusiastically continuing to set up, some of whom, organizers told us, were from other religions.

The country, which is just south of Russia and borders China and several former Soviet Republics, gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, in the wake of a sad history of persecutions under the Communist Regime.

Mentalities changing

It now has the greatest economy in Central Asia, and hosts Central Asia’s only Catholic Seminary.

We spoke to the rector, who acknowledged how there historically have been stereotypes about what religion a person should be based on their ethnicity.

However, now, he says, little by little there is more respect and understanding of each person’s right to freely choose their religion.

Great blessing for all Kazakhstan

Local Catholics describe themselves as a small but fervent community. They make up 1% of the population, 70% of which is Muslim, 25% of which is Christian, primarily Russian Orthodox.

Archbishop Tomasz Peta, in an interview with Vatican News, described how the Pope’s trip is a great blessing not only for the Catholics of Kazakhstan, but for the whole country, and expressed his belief that this Congress, combined with the Pope’s peace efforts, could contribute to achieving a long-lasting peace. – Vatican News