Bishkek (Agenzia Fides) – The new restrictions on religious freedom applied in recent days by the Government of Kyrgyzstan "do not affect the small Catholic Church in the country, which continues her path, in pastoral care of the faithful, in social work, and in humanitarian assistance," Agenzia Fides was told by Bishop Nikolaus Messmer, SJ, Apostolic Administrator of Kyrgyzstan.
The government has recently issued a new regulation on the presence and activity of religious groups in the country. The new law requires each group to be officially registered and thus operate legally, having a minimum of 200 faithful. The measure creates difficulties for some Protestant denominations that have small groups of believers. However, it has also sparked protests by Muslim groups (which are often small themselves), who intend to open new mosques and Islamic schools. The head of the government committee on religions, Kanibek Osmonaliyev, explained that the Government is concerned with controlling and limiting the proliferation of sects of any religious belief.
“The Catholic Church is not affected in any way whatsoever,” explains Bishop Messmer, “as we are already widely recognized and we have over 200 faithful.”
"Certainly, the number of Catholics is still very low. We are less than a thousand in the whole country, and the majority of the faithful are Polish or German extraction. I should also mention that many Catholic citizens of German origin in recent years have preferred to leave the country and return to Europe, and so the number of Catholics has declined. But in any case, we have no problem with civil authorities. Some difficulties exist in the issuance of visas for missionaries, which must be renewed every six months."
The small Catholic community in the country "continues on its path, working mainly for the spiritual and pastoral care of the faithful. We are also engaged in social and humanitarian work, helping anyone in need, without discrimination."
Resources are limited: the Church in Kyrgyzstan, out of a population of about 5 million people, has 6 priests, 2 male religious and 4 Sisters. Only two of the priests are of Kyrgyz nationality, the others are missionaries. "We need to grow, with the help of Providence, to bring the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the heart of Asia," concluded the Administrator. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 1/2/2010)