By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Pope Francis’ upcoming Apostolic Visit to Kazakhstan on 13-15 September will be the Holy Father's latest gesture to promote peace in the world with the help of religious leaders, suggests the Director of the Holy See Press Office. Matteo Bruni noted that this is yet another gesture in a papacy full of interreligious efforts.
During a briefing at the Holy See Press Office on Friday, Mr. Bruni presented the Pope’s 38th Apostolic Visit abroad. The Central Asian nation will be the 57th country the Holy Father has visited.
With his visit next week, Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, St. John Paul II who travelled to Kazakhstan shortly after the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in the United States. During his visit, St. John Paul II applauded the peaceful coexistence of religions and ethnicities, such as Kazakh, Russian, Ukrainian, and many others, within the country.
Kazakhstan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
In the footsteps of John Paul II
Pope St. John Paul II is the only previous Pope to have visited Kazakhstan. Mr. Bruni recalled the context of that visit, and the Pope's message that "religions cannot be places of conflict and called for peace to reign."
Mr. Bruni recalled that John Paul II's visit was to a newly-independent nation that had never received a visit of a Pope, and to a local Church that had undergone a long history of persecution under the Communist regime.
Kazakhstan is just south of Russia, and borders other former Soviet republics, as well as China and the Caspian Sea. It is the world's ninth-largest country in terms of landmass, and the world's largest landlocked nation. It also has Central Asia's largest economy and is home to its only Catholic seminary, located in Karaganda.
Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions
The Pope is headed to Kazakhstan specifically to attend the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, welcoming the invitations he received from civil authorities and Church in Kazakhstan.
During the 13-15 September visit, the Pope will stay in the capital, Nur-Sultan (formerly known as Astana).
The highlights of the journey will include the Pope's participation at the Congress, where he will give a discourse, pray in silence, and engage in private discussions with religious leaders, including the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Al Tayyeb. The religious leaders are expected to issue a declaration.
The Congress dates back to 2003 and takes place every three years in the Kazakh capital. The last to take place was in 2018, however, due to the pandemic.
Small but fervent Catholic community
On Friday, the Director of the Holy See Press Office indicated that Pope Francis' addresses will be delivered in Italian, and translations will be available.
Another touching moment will be Pope Francis' celebration of Mass for the country's Catholics, a moment of encouragement for the small but fervent Catholic community, which makes up about one percent of the nation's 19 million Kazakhs.
The population of Kazakhstan is 70 percent Sunni Muslim, and 26 percent Christian, primarily Russian Orthodox.
On the Journey, the Pope will be joined by his usual papal entourage, which will include the Roman Curia’s Cardinal-Prefects of the Dicasteries for Interreligious Dialogue, Promoting Christian Unity, Evangelization, and Oriental Churches.
The Holy Father is expected to greet journalists on the outgoing flight to Kazakhstan and to hold his usual press conference on the return flight to Rome, as he did for his last Apostolic Journey to Canada in July.
More than seventy journalists are expected to accompany the Pope aboard the papal flight.The Holy Father will return to Rome after 8 pm local time at Fiumicino International Airport.
Mongolia's Cardinal Marengo:
Pope's visit to Kazakhstan;
Mongolia's Cardinal Marengo: Pope's visit to Kazakhstan 'a step toward reconciliation'
While in Kazakhstan for Pope Francis' visit, Mongolia's Cardinal Giorgio Marengo discusses with Vatican News the importance of the Pope's visit to the Central Asian nation, saying it will draw attention to the world's conflicts, while working toward concrete change and long-awaited peace.
By Deborah Castellano Lubov - Nur-Sultan
Mongolia's Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, the Prefect of Ulaanbaatar, is convinced that Pope Francis' visit to Kazakhstan marks a significant step forward in the task of dialogue and reconciliation, as the world battles crises and war.
In an interview with Vatican News in Kazakhstan, the first-ever Cardinal of the Central Asian nation, now the youngest member of the College of Cardinals, shares his insight about the Pope's 38th Apostolic Journey abroad.
He notes that it comes amid continuing war in Ukraine, saying the papal visit has the power to not only draw widespread attention, but to bring about concrete change.
Q: Your Eminence, would you say that it is fair to consider the Holy Father's visit, a missionary trip, in a sense?
Definitely, yes. We like to see this Apostolic Journey as a missionary journey, which confirms the attitude of Pope Francis to be a true missionary of the good news.
His Apostolic Journey to Kazakhstan means a lot to all of us because we belong to the same Episcopal conference, and we are sure that it will also foster the ties of peace and reconciliation in the whole region.
Q: The Holy Father's participation in the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is one of the main reasons why he is here. From your experience in Central Asia, how would you say that this trip and the Pope's presence has the power to promote peace and dialogue, also as war continues nearby?
I strongly believe that the presence of the Holy Father represents a step forward in this process of dialogue and reconciliation. Considering the great reputation that the Holy Father has, his participation in the seventh Congress marks a special moment in this process.
And even from Mongolia, his participation is seen as a great honor. In Mongolia, the Holy Father enjoys a lot of admiration because of his commitment to dialogue and promoting culture of peace and fraternity.
Q: From your experience in Central Asia and with interreligious dialogue, is there some barrier you personally think needs to be overcome? Is there something you feel is needed?
I would say that this region of the world has a history, a tradition of coexistence and peaceful collaboration. Perhaps the presence of the Holy Father will represent a kind of increase in the importance of this process, even in the society, the larger society of these countries.
When a world leader like the Holy Father participates in such a meeting, it means that the attention of the public is also drawn there. And so, I would say the presence of the Holy Father will help this process to become more concrete and more widely known.