Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow 

By Vatican News staff reporter

August 18 2022

The Archbishop of the Mother of God in Moscow says a special pilgrimage organized by his Archdiocese ahead of Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Nur-Sultan will show Russian Catholics’ affection and loyalty to the Holy Father.

The Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow is organizing a special pilgrimage on the occasion of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Kazakhstan, which takes place on 13-15 September.

Witnesses of unity

Under the motto “We are witnesses of unity”, the pilgrimage will begin in the Russian capital on 12 September, stopping in the Siberian city of Omsk, before heading to Karaganda, in Kazakhstan,  on the next day, 13 September.

From there – according to the programme published on the Archdiocese’s  website – pilgrims will go to Karlag, one of the largest Soviet gulags where, between 1930 and 1960, tens of thousands of inmates lost their lives. It was a place of martyrdom also for many Christians, including Russians.

On 14 September, the group will move on to the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan to attend the the Holy Mass presided over by Pope Francis in the “Expo grounds”. The return journey to Moscow will begin on 15 September.

Russian Catholics love the Pope

In an interview granted to Vatican News, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, of the Mother of God in Moscow, said the pilgrimage is of great significance.

“The Pope’s journey is very important for the Russian Catholic faithful. First of all, because we don’t know if and when he will be able to come and see us, and Kazakhstan is the closest country (to Russia). It is, therefore, a great opportunity.”

According to Archbishop Pezzi, the pilgrimage offers an opportunity for Catholics in Russia to express their faithfulness and affection to Pope Francis“, by meeting him personally, because they “love the Pope”.

In inviting Russian Catholics to join the pilgrimage, the Archdiocese’s website recalls the words of Bishop José Luis Mumbiela Sierra of the Diocese of the Holy Trinity in Almaty, Kazakhstan, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Central Asia (CEVAC). 

In a recent interview with Vatican News on the the upcoming Pope’s visit, Bishop Mumbiela Sierra remarked that: “We are not pilgrims in search of an unattainable unity but witnesses of a unity that is already lived in our hearts, because the one God dwells in our souls and sends us so that all those created in his image and likeness may enjoy his life and love.”

Unity in diversity 

Unity in diversity and human fraternity will be the golden thread running through Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Kazakhstan, a multinational and multireligious country which, since its independence from the Soviet Union over three decades ago, has become a model of peaceful coexistence between different ethnic groups and religions.

These aspects were underscored several times by St. John Paul II, the first Pope to visit the central Asian Nation in 2001, who on that occasion described Kazakhstan as “a land of encounter, exchange and newness; a land which stirs in everyone the desire for new discoveries and makes it possible to experience difference not as a threat but as an enrichment.”

The VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions

This same desire to promote the values of coexistence and dialogue between peoples and faiths, as opposed to attempts to exploit religion for political ends, inspired the “Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions”. 

The event was first launched in 2003 in Astana (now Nur-Sultan) by former President Nazarbayev following the “spirit of Assisi”, the interreligious meetings convened for the first time in 1986 by St. John Paul II.

During his stay, Pope Francis will intervene in the seventh edition of the Congress, taking place this year from 14-15 September on the theme “The Role of Leaders of World and Traditional Faiths in the Socio-Spiritual Development of Humanity after the Pandemic.” – Vatican News