ASIA/UZBEKISTAN - The "big family" of a small church under the protection of John Paul II

Friday, 3 November 2017 local churches   evangelization   mission   caritas   dialogue   religious minorities  

Herald Malaysia

Tashkent (Agenzia Fides) - "Our Church is very small, but for this reason we feel a big family. We all know each other and are very close. For example, on 8 October, on the occasion of the first female solemn religious profession of the Uzbek Church, the whole community of the Sacred Heart Cathedral of Tashkent actively and spiritually participated in the celebration. It was a very touching moment, which involved everyone in first person: I saw many people weep with tears of emotion. It is a sign that, although slowly growing from a numerical point of view, is strong in spirit, by the grace of God". This is what the apostolic Administrator of Uzbekistan, Fr. Jerzy Maculewicz, OFM Conv. explained to Agenzia Fides with regards to the current situation of the Catholic community in Uzbekistan. In this historical phase, the apostolic Administrator says, there are five parishes and there are about 3,000 baptized, distributed in the major cities of the country. Specifically, there are about 700 active baptized members in Tashkent while the others are distributed between Samarcanda, Bukhara, Urgench and Fergana.
Faith in this Central Asian nation, formerly part of the Soviet Union, was accompanied in its growth under Pope Woytjla's pontificate and took a turn in 2005: among the Apostolic Constitutions laid down by John Paul II, the last in order of time, is dated 1 April 2005 and takes the name of "Usbekistaniae". With that document - issued the day before his death - the Pope wanted to elevate the Uzbek "missio iuris" to Apostolic Administration which had been established eight years before. Under the protection of Saint John Paul II - chosen, not by chance, as a patron - the Catholic Church in Uzbekistan continues to live and witness the Gospel in a diverse territory from an economic, social and religious point of view.
The spiritual life of the community is mainly due to the participation at mass and catechism that "takes place on Sunday, because the city is very large and often takes more than an hour to reach the church", explains Fr. Maculewicz. There is also attention towards preparing liturgical periods during the year, through prayer meetings and spiritual exercises.
Without forgetting charity: like other countries in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is experiencing a constant economic development (GDP grew by 8% in 2016), but still has large sectors of people in need. According to Fr. Jerzy, "expenses for surgery, medicines or school books are prohibitive for many people"; for this reason, although in the absence of a structured Caritas, friars and religious offer material support, helped by the sisters of Mother Teresa. Social service is also a fruitful ground for dialogue: "We are in contact with several members of the Muslim community - continues the Apostolic Administrator - who carry out charitable actions. For example, there is a family of Islamic belief that founded a cultural center for disadvantaged children and we often work actively with them".
There are also other opportunities for ecumenical and interreligious encounters: "At the beginning of the year, during the prayer week for the unity of Christians, we organize meetings with members of other churches, usually Lutherans, Armenians or Protestants. On the occasion of the two major Muslim feasts (the end of Ramadan and the Qurbon hayit), we visit and bring our greetings to the Islamic community. Also this year, we will also attend a special conference on religious tolerance, organized by the local Islamic University".
In Uzbekistan, 80% of the population professes Islamic religion, 8% recognize themselves in the Russian Orthodox Church. (LF-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 3/11/2017)