Karaganda (Agenzia Fides) - "What we consider the extraordinary night of the birth of Jesus, for the inhabitants of Bethlehem was an evening like any other, where in the chaos of the census, the shepherds continued to guard, in darkness and silence, their flocks. In Kazakhstan too, Christmas is a day like any other, not a holiday, but a working day and even here, in a country where most of the people have not yet known it, Jesus was happy with a simple grotto, a poor manger with a little hay in order to be born on earth and be present among us, in our world. For us, the faithful of Karaganda and all the other Catholic parishes of Kazakhstan, Christmas, with all the limits imposed by the pandemic, was not only the commemoration of a historical event relegated to the past; instead it was something that happened in the present and that happens every day. For this reason, the greeting that we Catholics exchange in these days is not simply 'Merry Christmas', almost putting the protagonist of this birth on hold, but 'Jesus is born!', with the verb in the present tense, and everyone responds: Praise be to Him!". This is what Mgr. Adelio Dell’Oro, bishop of Karaganda, tells Fides, giving an account of the Christmas celebrations in times of pandemic.
With an average of a thousand new cases per day, Kazakhstan continues to maintain all measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19: places of worship, reopened at the end of September after months of closure, also continue to be subject to precise rules of social distancing. This, explains Mgr. Dell'Oro, did not prevent us from celebrating Christmas: "I want to bear witness to a small episode, important to me, that I experienced on the night of December 24. In the crypt of the Cathedral, a boy of about 10 years old, abandoned by his parents and with mental problems, approached me to tell me that his grandmother, blind, deaf and with heart problems, wanted to be accompanied by her grandson to the Christmas Eve Mass, even though the outside temperature was -25°C. Her simple and profound faith had pushed her to make this gesture. I looked for her, I tried to talk to her, but she couldn't hear my words, so I shook her hand tightly and we stayed like that for a while. It was the living Jesus who, on that night, made himself truly present through her. In this experience of encounter, I understood how much Jesus is truly born here and now. Before the final blessing, I wanted to share with everyone the experience of meeting this grandmother, and I asked all the participants that by going to work the next day, they would offer with this same awareness, their day in the midst of all men".
The city of Karaganda has 4 Catholic churches, an international seminary and a cloistered convent of Carmelite nuns. In June 2020, Pope Francis elevated the church of Saint Joseph to a minor Basilica. The diocese of Karaganda comprises two regions and occupies a territory equivalent to two and a half times the size of Italy.
The approximately 20 parishes are separated from each other by immense distances, the most distant being by 1,700 km. In total, there are 4 Catholic dioceses in the entire territory of Kazakhstan, for a total of 70 parishes. There are 91 priests present in the nation, including 61 diocesan and 30 religious. Catholics represent a small minority: according to official data provided by the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1% of the over 17 million inhabitants, although in total around 26% of the population is composed of Christians. (LF-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 30/12/2020)