Tashkent (Agenzia Fides) - "We carry in our hearts a grateful memory of the interest and care of a Good Shepherd towards his small distant flock". This is the image of Benedict XVI that the Apostolic Administrator of Uzbekistan, Father Jerzy Maculewicz, OFM Conventual, commented to Agenzia Fides, who, in April 2005, received from the then recently elected Pontiff the spiritual mandate for the mission of the Church in the Central Asian country. It was, in fact, on April 1, 2005 when John Paul II promulgated the Apostolic Constitution "Usbekistaniae", the last to be signed by him: with this document - issued just the day before his death - Pope Wojtyla raised the "missio sui iuris" Uzbek, erected eight years earlier, to Apostolic Administration.
"I was one of the last bishops appointed by John Paul II and, therefore, one of the first sent by Pope Ratzinger. I well remember that, despite his numerous commitments due to his recent election to the chair of Peter, Benedict XVI wanted and succeeded in finding time to meet me, bless my imminent departure to Tashkent and to give me a pectoral cross. It was a meeting that lasted a few minutes, but from which great humanity and a sincere spiritual participation in the mission in Uzbekistan shone", says Fr. Maculewicz to Agenzia Fides.
The lively attention and pastoral care of Pope Benedict XVI towards the Uzbek community of faithful, continues the Apostolic Administrator of Tashkent, "has been manifested continuously over the years, and became clear years later, in 2008, during the ad limina apostolorum visitation of the Ordinaries of Central Asia. On that occasion, Benedict XVI was very impressed by the letters from the faithful and the drawings of the Uzbek children that I personally gave him. Those poor missives and those thoughts of faith and simple affection, which came to him from a very distant country, but which expressed such a strong and profound faith, moved the pontiff." "He was very fraternal with us - continues the religious - and he reminded us that in Central Asia, thanks to zealous priests, religious and lay people, the flame of faith remained lit in the hearts of believers even during the time of Communist persecution. For this reason, he invited us not to lose heart, despite being a 'little flock', and to always remain confident in divine Providence that never abandons us, especially in the hour of trial". The Pope recalled that "the Church does not impose, but freely proposes Catholic faith, knowing full well that conversion is the mysterious fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift and a work of God".
With the blessing of Benedict XVI, the Uzbek Church has continued to flourish: it currently has some 3,000 baptized and five parishes throughout the country. In addition to some 700 worshipers in Tashkent, there are others in Samarkand, Bukhara, Urgench and Fergana. Also, the procedures for the construction of a new church in the city of Angren are underway. The Uzbek population of 30 million is 90% Muslim. About 3.5% are Russian Orthodox Christians, while another 3% are made up of small Christian communities of other denominations, including Catholics. (LF-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 4/1/2023)
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