Karaganda (Agenzia Fides) - "In Kazakhstan there was already a deep respect for the Catholic Church, but the apostolic journey of Pope Francis in September has had the effect of generating greater consideration for us among the local population. Probably, his presence has also given us Catholics more courage: in this country we represent a 'small flock', as the Pope said, and sometimes we fall into the error of limiting ourselves to looking at the numbers, feeling small, almost insignificant. Welcoming Francis in this little flock has confirmed us in the faith and in the daily mission that it is not ours but, the work of God". This is what Msgr. Yevgeniy Zinkovskiy, Auxiliary Bishop of Karaganda and the first local Bishop of Kazakhstan, explains to Fides, recalling the recent Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to the Central Asian country (September 13-15).
The theme of the dialogue was at the center of Francis' speeches: "His words - points out the Prelate - will continue to be remain a point of reference for the faith of all Catholics in Kazakhstan: the multi-ethnic environment in which we live leads us daily to commit ourselves and work on dialogue, but, based on the example that the Pontiff himself has given us, we will be able to open ourselves even more to the encounter with people who come from other traditions, cultures and religions. We can learn to live and love each other: that of dialogue is like a seed that we will continue to cultivate and a process that we intend to develop".
The Pope's stay in Astana also provided the opportunity to sign an Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Kazakhstan. This document, explains Bishop Zinkovskiy, represents "a great gift, which will benefit the mission of the Church in the country". The Agreement, as reported in a press release from the Holy See, will in fact give "a broader implementation of Article 2 of the 1998 Bilateral Agreement, facilitating the granting of visas and residence permits to ecclesiastical and religious personnel from abroad and engaged in the pastoral care of the Catholic faithful in Kazakhstan". "All these 'seeds' planted by the Pope's visit - concludes the Bishop - if well watered and cared for, will be able to germinate, grow and bear fruit, as God wants, in our community, which is always a people walking in the world following Christ".
Kazakhstan has four Catholic dioceses, with a total of 70 parishes. There are 91 priests in the country, of whom 61 are diocesan and 30 religious. According to official data from the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of the more than 17 million inhabitants of the country, about 26% are Christians, and 1% of them are Catholics. (LF) (Agenzia Fides, 1/10/2022)