Ashgabat (Agenzia Fides) - "The period spent in Turkmenistan was a very positive experience. The participation in the catechesis held in the church of Ashgabat was very high: the entire community of the capital was present - about 100 people - but there were also those who came from other parts of the country. In the days following Christmas, then, we priests reached the faithful who live far from the city". This is what Father Diego Sáez Martín told Agenzia Fides: the Oblate of Mary Immaculate, a missionary in Turkmenistan from 2010 to 2013, who has just returned to Italy after spending three weeks in the Central Asian State to help his confreres in the preparation and in the carrying out the liturgical celebrations during the Christmas period.
The theme of catechesis held by Fr. Diego was "You will be like God", the phrase with which the devil tempted Adam and Eve: "I explained how the Father really makes us like him, if we do not turn away from him, as our biblical ancestors erroneously did. I tried to explain it in practical, not theological terms. On the day of departure, for example, my flight was delayed and I arrived at the destination exactly five minutes before the start of the first catechesis. I did not prepare myself well: I let the Spirit act".
Fr. Diego says: "In the following days I left with Fr. Rafał Chilimoniuk to visit the places where there are other Catholics who could not reach Ashgabat. We traveled about 2000 km, meeting also people of Muslim faith, who wanted to know our faith. We also visited a family converted from Islam to Christianity: a family: father, mother and two children, who live in a small village, 750 kilometers from Ashgabat.
Providence allowed me to meet them about six years ago, when I was permanently on a mission in Turkmenistan. At the time I went to visit them once a month for the preparation for baptism, which they then received".
Regarding religious conversion, the priest explains: "In Turkmenistan, the Constitution grants religious freedom and protects the possibility of converting to another faith. Problems for those passing from one belief to another can arise from the family of origin or neighbors, who sometimes do not accept this change, and consider it a betrayal".
According to the Oblate, the Catholic community in Turkmenistan is undergoing a process of transformation: "In the past, the group of the faithful was composed mostly of people of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish or German origin. At the same time, the percentage of Turkmen ethnic faithful is increasing".
"The community grows with enthusiasm and could be even bigger, because there is great interest and curiosity and people are open to friendship with Catholics. The problem is that, currently, there are only two priests for the whole country and this represents a great limitation", concludes Fr. Sáez Martín. (LF) (Agenzia Fides, 12/1/2018)