Ashgabat (Agenzia Fides) – To take part in the baptism of six new Turkmen sisters with joy: this will be the first World Day of the Poor - proclaimed by the Pope for November 19 - by the Catholic faithful of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. This is what Fr. Andrzej Madej, Polish priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Superior of the "missio sul irus" of Turkmenistan to Agenzia Fides: " Pope Francis launched a clear message for this day dedicated to the last: 'We do not love in words, but with facts'. This points out how charity works addressed towards one’s neighbor are salvific actions that help build the story of our redemption. The greatest saving work is the path towards baptism. And it is with great joy that, this Sunday, we will baptize a young woman and her five daughters".
Fr. Madej reports to Fides the story of the six women: "Over the last few years, this family, in financial difficulties, was accompanied by a French volunteer, who gave witness of human and Christian solidarity. This proximity generated interest both towards the gospel and the beginning of the journey towards baptism. The date of November 19 seems to be a coincidence, but it is certainly a day chosen by God. It will be a great celebration for us all".
With this celebration, which brings together the little flock of the Turkmen faithful (200 throughout the country), World Day of the Poor Day in Turkmenistan is held, a state in which to talk about "poverty" is almost forbidden. The concept of "poor" is, in fact, one of the taboos in society, given that the government of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, president confirmed for the third time at the helm of the country since February 2017, wants to show the face of a growing country and in full development.
During the Soviet era, Turkmenistan was considered one of the poorest republics in the Union, with about 45% of the population, who in 1989 lived below the poverty line. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, unequal economic development contributed to creating a population of elite that holds most of the wealth and strong disparities among the provinces (rural ones such as Dashkovuz and Merv are the poorest).
Measuring poverty was a taboo in the Soviet Union, but the scarcity and incompleteness of poverty data in the post-independence era also indicates that poverty is still a politically delicate topic in Central Asia. In 2012, the Turkmen government estimated poverty at 0.2% of the population, contradicting all independent indicators and studies, that spread estimates around 30%.
Turkmenistan has over 5 million inhabitants, of whom 90% Muslims. The Catholic Church was recognized by the Turkmen government in 2010. (LF-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 18/11/2017)