Ashgabat (Agenzia Fides) – “We have received official recognition as the ‘Catholic Church in Turkmenistan’. We are filled with great joy and great hope”: Fr Andrzej Madej, Superior of the Catholic Mission in Turkmenistan, told Fides. For the small Catholic community in this part of central Asia, just 100 faithful, “this is a decisive moment in the history of the Church in this country”. The Superior was informed in March by Turkmenistan's Ministry of Justice and its Council of Religions that official recognition had been granted. This means the Catholic community here now has official public status with the corresponding benefits at the juridical and pastoral levels.
From 17 July the Pope's representative, the Apostolic Nuncio to Turkey and to Turkmenistan, Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, will be in the country to meet representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, to ratify the steps taken and express the satisfaction of the Holy See.
The Nuncio will also be present at a ceremony to say goodbye to Fr. Tomasz Kostinski, OMI, who is moving to Ireland. His place will be taken by a Spanish priest, also an Oblate Missionary of Mary Immaculate, like both the Superior Fr Andrzej Madej and Fr Kostinski. The community will also soon have a deacon P. Raphael, coming from Poland, who will be ordained a priest next year.
Turkmenistan, former Soviet republic, has a population of 5 million, 90% followers of Islam. The Catholic community has 100 baptised members and about 30 catechumens preparing to become members of the Church.
Turkmenistan, like other parts of central Asia, is a land of 'first evangelisation' : Catholic church buildings here were destroyed by the Soviet revolutionaries from the 1920 onwards. There is an officially recognised Russian Orthodox community.
A request made 13 years ago for official status for the local Catholic community, was initially refused on the grounds that the Catholic community here should be led by a Turkmen citizen. However that impasse was overcome. “Now we can think about asking government permission to build the first church for our Catholic community. We are already the 'living stones' of the local Church, but we would like to have a place in which to assemble for prayer ”, said Fr. Andrej. The newly recognised Catholic community now hopes to retrieve possession of a Catholic Armenian church in Turkmenbasy, in the west of the country, which survived the Soviet rule, but is in a desolate state and another small church building at Serdar, today a coffee bar.
Most Catholics in this country are of polish or German origin. Until now Catholics attended Mass on diplomatic territory, in the Nunciature building in Ashgabat, and held prayer meetings and other gatherings in private homes.
The Catholic community is served by two Catholic priests and a deacon (all Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate OMI). There is no community of women religious here but perhaps now there is new hope for the future. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 15/7/2010 righe 29 parole 292)