KAZAKHSTAN-VATICAN Kazakhs, the suffering and love of Francis

Asia of Astana – as it was decided just in those days to call the capital again – welcomes the Pope of Rome as a brother who understands the weariness and burden of life, body and spirit.

Nur-Sultan (AsiaNews) – The extraordinary trip of Pope Francis to Kazakhstan, in addition to the factors related to the great meeting of religions and the geopolitical importance of this territory, drew attention to another aspect related to his personal suffering. It is not news that for months the pontiff has been limited in his movements due to severe joint pain, but it is certainly surprising that he wanted to go under these conditions to a land so far away not only geographically – Canada was even more so -. but above all for its historical and cultural components.

Francis’s suffering, on the other hand, is not only physical, but is accentuated by the inner suffering caused by the conflicts and adversities of the times in which we live, and the Pope does not fail to remind him at every opportunity, invoking a common commitment to build the peace. In this sense, he is increasingly approaching the figure of his saintly predecessor John Paul II, who traveled to Kazakhstan after the attack on the twin towers in New York and asked everyone to unite so as not to succumb to the temptation of war. constant. The Polish pope was already shrunken and sick – and died a few years later – but, like Francis, he showed incredible spiritual strength.

The pope’s conditions of weakness further emphasized a characteristic of the Kazakh people, which is similar to other Asians in all aspects, but with a special ability to smile and greet with warmth and sincerity. Kazakhs are cheerful and friendly, proud of their ability to dialogue with anyone, nurtured by an ancient and modern history of insecurity and suffering, but also of friendship and hospitality. Asia of Astana – as it was decided to call the capital again – expressed his love for the Pope of Rome as a brother who understands the weariness and heaviness of life, body and spirit.

Instead of the Patriarch of Moscow, who was unwilling to listen to voices that did not agree with his proclamations of holy war, the Moscow delegation was headed by Metropolitan Antony of Volokolamsk and tried to hide, expressing his attachment to the wishes and hopes of Francis for peace. The local Metropolitan Alexander also stayed away from the Congress of Religions, coming to bless the relics of the warrior monks in Almaty, and all the other Orthodox tried at least not to look more threatening than the many muftis and imams, who, on the contrary, warmly supported the intentions of the pope.

Many smiling faces surrounded the pope in the less formal meetings with Catholics on the last day of the visit. After the morning mass with a small group of priests and nuns, Francis met with his fellow Jesuits in the nunciature. The eleven priests from the Jesuit mission in Kyrgyzstan were present, headed by the apostolic administrator, the American Anthony Corcoran; there were some young people and some older people who worked in these lands for many years, even before the end of the USSR, when there was already a small group of Jesuits who were forced to move into Soviet semi-secrecy.

Even more festive was the reception at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral, where Francis was able to speak with members of the local church. The three Kazakh dioceses have different and often difficult to harmonize approaches: Astana is led by the pious Polish bishop Tomasz Peta, who came to this land even before the collapse of the Soviet empire, and relies on the theological and liturgical rigor of the auxiliary bishop, Athanasius Schneider, a highly cultured German from Kyrgyz origin.

Very different is the great benevolence and magnanimity of the Spanish Archbishop of Almaty, Monsignor Jose Luis Mumbiela Sierra, who is also named by some marginalized priests and laymen from Astana, and in the middle is the committed pastoral care of the Italian Bishop of Karaganda. Father Adelio dell’Oro, who arrived in 1997 with the group of missionaries to the Russian lands from Father Luigi Giuzani, tries to maintain a balance between the harsh north and the smiling south of local Catholicism.

Contradictions are not lacking in this great Eurasian middle ground, even in the life of the small local Catholic Church, which honors the Queen of Peace in a special way: “May the Virgin melt the ice of hearts”, wished Pope Francis and it was clearly heard from above: before his arrival an almost winter frost had fallen, and during his visit the sun was shining again.

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