Samarkand (Agenzia Fides) - The oratory as a place of encounter, knowledge, play, human relationships, positive socialization, joy and proclamation of the Gospel. With this spirit, the priests of the Institute of the Incarnate Word of Samarkand have set up a small oratory in the church of St. John the Baptist and have set up a football, basketball and volleyball field in the outdoor area adjacent to the parish. The hope is that especially children and young people can get closer and know the reality of the community. This is what parish priest Fr. Ariel Alvarez Toncovich said: "Next to our church there was a large and empty space, so we decided to set up soccer goals, a volleyball net, two basketball hoops and other games for children. The aim is to give life to the oratory according to Don Bosco's style, an aspect of pastoral care that is very dear to the charism of the Institute of the Incarnate Word. Don Bosco said that in order to get closer to the youngest, it is necessary to give them something to do: prayer should be the main activity, but not the exclusive one. For this reason, it is useful to start from educational proposals that pass through play and sport, but always with the accompaniment of the religious: this is how friendship can be born between children and priests and it is precisely through friendship that one can speak to the children of God. Our parish was a bit empty in this regard, so we promised to give the children something to do when they came to visit us to pray".
After eight years of mission in Kazakhstan, Fr. Álvarez was sent to Samarkand along with his community confrere, Fr. Paolo Giacinti, to relaunch pastoral activity in the local parish, which has been without a priest for a long time. Through the activities aimed at children, the two religious thus hope to be able to bring their families closer as well: "We know that in Samarkand there are many Catholics who, however, do not come to church because for some years the activities were almost completely suspended, due to the lack of a permanent priest.
With these activities we hope to attract these people and to involve more those who come to the parish in a somewhat cold and distant way".
Furthermore, the structures dedicated to play can represent a useful instrument for the apostolate. Fr. Alvarez explains in this regard: "The court is officially reserved for parishioners, but a few days ago some non-Catholic boys asked us to play basketball. We accepted and it was an opportunity to talk to them and get to know them. Probably, in other situations this would represent only a small thing, but for us it is a very great opportunity to get to know the children, spend time with them, educate and evangelize".
In addition to that of Samarkand, in Uzbekistan there are four other parishes and about 3,000 baptized people.
There are about 700 faithful present in the capital Tashkent, and others present in Bukhara, Urgench and Fergana. In Angren, where a new church is planned to be built, there are 25 faithful. Uzbekistan's population of 30 million is 90% Muslim. About 3.5% are Russian Orthodox Christians, while another 3% comprise small Christian communities of other faiths, including Catholics. (LF-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 8/5/2021)