THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN KAZAKHSTAN

The Catholic Church in Kazakhstan is a part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. The number of Catholics in the country counts, according to the Pontifical Yearbook 2016 Annuario Pontificio, about 108.500 thousand people, which is approximately 0.61 % of the total population. Except for the Latin-rite Catholics, Greek Catholic community resides in the country (consisting mainly of ethnic Ukrainians).

There are approximately 26% Christians (mainly Russian Orthodox) in Kazakhstan out of the population of 18 million. Most Catholics in the country are ethnic Poles, Germans and Lithuanians (also other ethnic nationalities are available, often mixed in internally, which is typical for Kazakhstan). Russian, Ukrainian, Korean and Kazakh, and representatives of other nationalities are also present among Catholics.

 

The population of Catholics decreased after the fall of communism as many German Catholics immigrated to Germany. Also Poles and other nationalities continue to repatriate.

 

The Catholic Church in the World

 

Catholicism is the largest, by number of devotees (about 1 billion 229 million people, as of the end of 2012), streamline in Christianity developed throughout I millennium AD in the territory of the Western Roman Empire.

It has mostly propagated in Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary), in Latin America and in the USA. To one extent or another, Catholicism is spread almost in all countries of the globe.

Most of Catholics worldwide belong to the Latin rite. Except, The Catholic Church involves Eastern Catholic Churches that have the status of Churches sui iuris. They belong to one of the five ritual traditions: Alexandrian, Antiochene, Byzantine, Chaldean, and Armenian (which welcome separate rites internally – totally about 20). These Churches have a special canon law, own hierarchic structure headed by the Patriarch or the Major Archbishop, however they stay in touch with the Pope and organizationally subordinate to him.

Catholic Church developed millennium AD in the territory of the Western Roman Empire and has played an important role in the Western civilization.

Spirituality and Culture in Catholicism

Catholicism has had a dominating influence on the Western civilization from the late antiquity till the beginning of the New Age. By virtue of support of the Catholic Church, Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, manneristic, and baroque styles developed in art, architecture, and music.

Many public figures of Renaissance, such as, for instance, Rafael Santi, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Fra Beato Angelico, Tintoretto, Tizian, Giotto have enjoyed support of the Catholic Church.

Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Blaise Pascal, Paul Claudel, François Mauriac, Georges Bernanos, Gilbert Keith Chesterton are worth accentuating among those poets and writers associated to Catholicism.

Catholic philosophers and theologians like Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, John Scotus, William of Ockham, Bonaventure, Francisco Suárez, Edith Stein, Gabriel Marcel, Karol Wojtyła, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, and other had a great influence on the development of the Western civilization.

A great variety of spirituality patterns is typical for the Catholic Church. Choice of one or another depends on cultural and historical conditions and individual aptitudes of the faithful. Many of these spiritual patterns have been developed inside one or another institute of life dedicated to God and communities of apostolic life, as well as catholic campaigns.

Openness to the World after the Second Vatican Council

The last Council – the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) – was not of a dogmatic but of a pastoral nature. After the Council Catholicism became open for other Christian confessions, especially for Orthodoxy, with which the dialogue is so called ecumenical. Officially an inter-confessional dialogue is open with traditional world religions like Judaism and Islam, as well as Buddhism, Hinduism and others.

The Catholic Church is open for science and social culture, for any inter-confessional and intercultural dialogue. It is especially necessary in Kazakhstan, where 70 % of population is Muslim but where Judaism, Buddhism and Shamanism are present.

 

Visit by the Pope John Paul II held on September 22 — 25, 2001 had a great significance for the Catholic Church in Kazakhstan. The Pope spoke about “love civilization”. Therefore historical visit by John Paul II way more explicitly expressed to the Catholics the necessity of a dialogue with non-Christian religions and cultures, both with Muslims and with ethnic Kazakh culture in general (the Pope cited twice the great Kazakh poet Abay and Ahmed Yassawi – the great Sufi visionary).

Therefore the Catholic Church in Kazakhstan tends to create spiritual agreement and to protect the universal spiritual values, which has been highly appreciated by the President Nazarbayev a number of time. In this context the Catholic Church dispraises murders in the name of God, violation of freedom of conscience and confession, moreover – religious extremism, violence, religious proselytism and terrorism.

 

Brief historical information[1]

 

The Origins of the Christian Presence in Central Asia

The Catholic Church has deep roots in Kazakhstan. Some historians say that as early as the second century AD in the town of Merv, today known as Mary, (on the Uzbekistan border in southern Kazakhstan) there were Christians among Roman soldiers taken prisoners after a battle they lost against the Persians. A bishop’s see existed there in the year 334. In the same place, at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries, there was a Melkite monastery.

 

In the south there were also Nestorian communities. Until the 13th century, under the rule of a Nestorian Patriarch, there were 25 metropolitan sees and about 150 bishops. One of these metropolitan sees was at Marcanda (Samarkand), the ancient capital of Sogdiana, a famous historical and cultural region of Central Asia. In the second half of the seventh century, Metropolitan Ilia of Merv probably took part in the conversion of the Turks. The conversion of the Kagan of the Turks is attributed to this Bishop.

 

In the seventh and eighth centuries, Nestorian Christianity spread through southern Kazakhstan and Semiretchinsk (Turkmenistan) and later in the ninth and tenth centuries led to the founding of the Metropolitan See of Karluki. Christian churches still exist in Taraz and Mirke. In Taraz today there are still Christian families of Syrian origin (easily recognized by their dark skin) who claim that their ancestors went there to escape persecutions, the memory of which has been lost in time. In the year 1009, Nestorian missionaries baptized one of the numerous groups of Mongol speaking ethnic Kereiti whose Khan took the Christian name Mark, Marguz. In the same period the Nestorian tendency spread among other peoples of Central Asia, and the Metropolitan Sees of Kachgar (Xinjiang, China) and Navakheta were established. Nestorian Christianity was popular at court. In the family of the Mongol emperors, many noble women at court were Christians and important Uighur and Kereiti ministers were often Nestorians. In the seventh century, Nestorian monks went as far as Changan (today Xian) to the court of the Chinese Emperor Tang. During the reign of the Grand Khan Kubilai (1260-1295), the Venetian merchants, Mafeo and Marco Polo, discovered more than 700,000 Chinese families who called themselves Christians and they were probably one of the surviving branches of Nestorian Christians or Manichaean Christians (of Persian origin, found until the 17th century in the Fujian province of China).

 

The appearance of mendicant monastic Orders marks the beginning of Catholic missions to the Far East. One example of missionary activity was the journey undertaken by Flemish Franciscan William of Rubroeck (1253-1255), who traveled 9,940 miles in two years, from Constantinople to Karakorum, capital of the steppe land empire. Most of the territory covered by Rubroeck was in present day Kazakhstan. At the end of his journey, Rubroeck met the Great Khan Munke (who later became a Christian). The Franciscan sought to illuminate Khan Sartac, the son of Batu-Khan, grandchild of Genghis Khan. Towards the middle of 1254, Khan Sartac converted to Christianity and Pope Innocent IV was informed.

 

First ecclesiastical structures in Central Asia

In the year 1278 the Holy See attempted to organize ecclesiastical structures in the territory of Kazakhstan and in Central Asia. Because of the countless conversions made by the Franciscans, Pope Nicholas III established the Diocese of Kipciak. Franciscans in the territory of Kipciak received special privileges, probably from Khan Monke-Timur (1267-1280), which were renewed by later Khans: for example all Latin clergy were exempt from military service, corve, (unpaid labour) and tax. This all corresponded to the general legislation promulgated earlier by Genghis Khan. The Khan were obliged to protect Catholic churches and bell towers. The legislation mentioned above established a stable and ordered situation for missionaries throughout the empire.  One of the greatest missionary-diplomats of the 13th and 14th centuries was the Italian, Giovanni da Montecorvino (1247-1328 or 1333). Sent to Asia by Pope Nicholas IV in 1289 like other Franciscans including Arnold of Cologne and Odorico of Pordenone, Friar Giovanni reached Kamablik in 1294, where he soon won the esteem of the Khan who ruled the region of Tenduk (part of Mongolia and what is today Manchuria, north of Beijing). The Khan had already been baptized by the Nestorians with the Christian name of George, Kirghis in Kurkic. The name of this Khan was later given to ethnic groups known as the Kirghiz, literally people of St. George. Under the influence of Montecorvino, Khan Kirghiz became a member of the Catholic Church and even received Minor Orders from the Franciscan. It is said that the Khan himself served Giovanni at the altar during Mass.

 

In a letter to Nicholas IV in 1306, Montecorvino asked the Pope for more missionaries. But a group of Dominicans only reached as far as Kiptchak. In 1307 Pope Clement V appointed Montecorvino as Archbishop in the city of Kambalik and Patriarch of the Far East. He then called seven Franciscans for mission in China. They were ordained bishops and were instructed to ordain Montecorvino Archbishop of Kambalik on their arrival. Six of them set out on the journey but three soon died shortly after. One of the remaining three, Gerard Albuni, stopped at Zayton or Kaitong a port on the Fu-jian river, today Quangzhou, to tend to the many Catholics there. The other two, one of whom was Bishop Andrea of Perugia, continue the journey. In 1311 they reached Peking and at last Archbishop Giovanni Montecorvino received Episcopal ordination. It was Pope John XXII who created the Archdiocese of Kambalik (Beijing) in 1318. The missionary activity of Montecorvino, he had the Bible translated into Mongolian, let to hundreds of thousands of conversions. Dioceses were established at Almalik and Urghenc. Altogether, 31 missionary dioceses were set up in the Far East. After the deaths of Giovanni da Montecorvino and the Khan the situation became complicated. Using religion to forge political alliances, the Khan converted to Islam and persecution of the Christians began. Among those killed at Almalik were Richard of Bourgogne, six monks (three priests and three brothers) and an Italian merchant, Guglielmo da Modena.

For the next 600 years, Kazakhstan was without a Catholic bishop until 1991, when by Pope John Paul II appointed Jan Pavel Lenga Apostolic Administrator of Karaganda, Kazakhstan.

 

Catholic Church at Russian Empire times and during Soviet Period

History of the Catholic Church in Kazakhstan continued at Russian Empire times. In the second half of XIX century — beginning of XX century a part of military men at the tsar’s army in service in the territory of the modern Kazakhstan, exiles, freewill migrants, prisoners of war and refugees who turned out in Kazakhstan, were Catholics. Amongst them the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Czechs, the Germans, the French, the Latvians, the Hungarians, the Austrians and other peoples.

After October Revolution in 1917 the Catholic Church, in line with other religions, experienced the most cruel persecution. Catholic ecclesiastic administrative structures have been completely liquidated in USSR. Also Catholic hierarchy, both of Latin and Byzantine rites, has been eliminated. Priests who survived have been imprisoned and exiled.

Stalin’s repressions caused imprisonment of a large number of Catholics, mostly ethnic Germans, Ukrainians, and Poles and deportation to Kazakhstan; most of them passed away. Two Greek Catholic priestly martyrs, Bishop Nikita Budka and Priest Alexey Zaritsky have been beatified and are currently reverences as saint patron of the country.

Many of the priests, who have completed their sentence in lagers, stayed in Kazakhstan after their release to serve for the local Catholics. For instance, Father Alexander Staub (before his decease in 1961),  Father Mikhail Stonets, and other Catholic priests, but first of all Father Władysław Bukowiński (before his decease in 1974), who was beatified on September 11th, 2016 in Karaganda, where his relics are stored in the crypt of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima (this Cathedral is reckoned as the most beautiful one in the Central Asia), – served at those times in Karaganda. That was the first beatification in the Roman Catholic Church in Kazakhstan.

 

The Church today

 

With the fall of communism in 1991, the Catholic community fully came back out into the open. In 1991, Pope John Paul II established an Apostolic Administration that covered all of Central Asia. Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Kazakhstan were established in 1994. In 1997, the other four countries of the region, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan all became independent missions, so the Apostolic Administration became for all of Kazakhstan and was based in Karaganda. In 1999, the Apostolic Administration ]was split in four; three new Apostolic Administrations were created, based in Almaty, Astana, and Atyrau, and a diocese was created in Karaganda.

Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Kazakhstan in the country’s history in 2001. In 2003, John Paul II elevated Astana to an archdiocese and Almaty to a diocese. In 2006, Catholic priests were ordained for the first time ever in the country.

Administrative center of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Apostolic Delegation in Kazakhstan and in Central Asia is located in Karaganda. On November 8th,  2002, the Holy See nominated the priest Vasiliy Govera, the rector of the Greek Catholic Parish in Karaganda, as the Apostolic Delegate for all Eastern-rite Catholics in Kazakhstan and in Central Asia. Totally 5 Greek Catholic parishes function  in Kazakhstan: in Karaganda, in Astana, in Pavlodar, in Shiderty, and in Satpayev.

Today the President of the Episcopal Conference in Kazakhstan, which embrace all the Catholic Bishops on the territory, is Msgr. José Luis Mumbiela Sierra, Bishop of Most Holy Trinity in Almaty. He was elected in 2015.

Agreement between Kazakhstan and Vatican

One of the most important achievements by Vatican diplomacy in the Republic of Kazakhstan is certainly the fact that the Catholic Church, by means of negotiations, has compelled the concordat – the agreement between the Apostolic See and the Republic of Kazakhstan. This concordat was signed on May 10th, 1999 by the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym Zhomart Tokayev. On May 19th, 1999 the agreement was approved with the Decree of the President of Kazakhstan, No.141. It was promulgated and came into effect in the Republic of Kazakhstan on July 30th, 1999. After numerous controversies regarding validity of its ratification, the Government of Kazakhstan, by means of the Resolution as of August 29th, 2012, offered forward a proposal of the project of ratification of the said Agreement at the meeting of the The Mazhilis of The Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Agreement was ratified by The Parliament and the President of Kazakhstan signed it on October 18th. 2012. This was a significant event for the Catholic Church in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Procedure of ratification of the concordat is as important as per the Law on Religious Practices and Religious Associations, art. 2 p. 2, the ratified international agreements have a higher rank than the law on ratification itself. In this way, no additional registration was required from religious organizations after the new law came into effect on October 11th, 2011.

The decisions of the concordat have the key value for the practices of the Catholic Church in the Republic of Kazakhstan. The art. 2 rules that the right for stay and practice is granted to the expatriate missionaries nominated for ministration: “The competent bodies of the Republic of Kazakhstan shall grant the permit for stay to the expatriate members of the Catholic Church, nominated for ministration in individual churches or to other institutions of the Catholic Church in the territory of Kazakhstan, for the total period of their nomination, according to the effective law”. (cit.) Art. 3 recognizes the possibility of having a status of a legal entity for the organizations, which have the status of legal entities in the framework of the ecclesiastic legislation. Ecclesiastical seminary is mentioned also amongst these organizations. Art. 7 and 8 specify catholic schools in Kazakhstan. The law limits establishment of schools of general education for the confessional association; the agreement accepts establishment of ‘registered catholic schools’ with all benefits of general education in Kazakhstan, relative to school and college students.

Beyond all doubt, the Agreement between Kazakhstan and the Apostolic See puts the Catholic Church in the Republic of Kazakhstan to a position of privilege compared to the other confessional associations. All faithful Catholics, and especially the priesthood, can feel protected to some extent, by this agreement.

The Apostolic Nunciature also has a great significance in reciprocal contacts. By virtue of presence of a representative of the Apostolic See in the Republic of Kazakhstan, the way of communication at a high diplomatic level is open today.

 

Ecclesiastical Seminary

October 7th,  1997 is the date of official establishment of the Catholic Ecclesiastical Seminary Redemptoris Mater in Karaganda, which was completely reorganized on July 16th,  1998 and has received a new name “Mary, Mother of the Church”.

The seminary in Karaganda is the only one in Kazakhstan, both inter-diocesan and international, since seminarians from Georgia and Armenia study here.

 

Caritas

Nationwide fund “Caritas” also functions in Kazakhstan.

“Caritas”, as translated from Latin, means “merciful love”. The first organization of Caritas was founded in Germany in 1897. “Caritas” is the international Catholic charity organization, which renders support to development, social work and help to people in solution of their vital problems: food, clothes and medical service. Their employees and volunteers help people in critical situations and incidents. As of today, “Caritas”, in terms of the amount of help rendered, is one of the largest charity organizations in the world.