Pope's teachings

The Pope's messages in Kazakhstan

Between Tuesday, September 13 and Thursday, September 15, Pope Francis made an apostolic journey to Kazakhstan. The main reason was to participate in the VII Congress of the leaders of the world and traditional religions. 

Ramiro Pellitero-October 16, 2022-Reading time: 8 minutes
messages Pope Kazakhstan

For two decades the authorities of Kazakhstan have been organizing, every three years, the congress of religious leaders. It is striking that 10 years after its independence, Kazakhstan has decided, as Francis has expressed in his balance of the trip, "putting religions at the heart of the commitment to building a world in which we listen to each other and respect each other in diversity.". And he has made it clear that "that is not relativism, no: it is listening and respect", while rejecting fundamentalisms and extremisms (General Audience 21-IX-2022).

In the Pope's opinion, this congress was a step forward on the path initiated by Saints John XXIII and Paul VI, along with "great souls of other religions" as Gandhi, and "so many martyrs, men and women of all ages, languages and nations, who have paid with their lives for their fidelity to the God of peace and brotherhood." (ibid.). And not only in extraordinary moments, but in the daily effort to contribute to improving the world for all. In fact, Kazakhstan was described by Pope John Paul II as "land of martyrs and believers, land of deportees and heroes, land of thinkers and artists." (Speech during the welcoming ceremony, September 22, 2001).

A symphony of cultural and religious traditions

During the meeting with the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps, the Pope emphasized Kazakhstan's vocation to be "country of encounter".(Speech at the Qazaq Concert Hall in Nursultan, September 13, 2022). Nearly 150 ethnic groups live there and more than 80 languages are spoken. It is a vocation that deserves to be encouraged and sustained, along with the strengthening of its young democracy. On this path, the country has already taken very positive decisions, such as the rejection of nuclear weapons.

Taking as a symbol the shadow -The Pope pointed out, in the words of John Paul II, that the notes of two souls, the Asian and the European, resound in the country, which have a permanent "mission to connect two continents" (Speech to young people, 23-IX-2001); "a bridge between Europe and Asia"a "link between East and West". (Speech at the farewell ceremony, September 25, 2001). Francis also praised the concert of ethnic groups and languages present in Kazakhstan, with their varied cultural and religious traditions, which manages to compose a great symphony, "a unique multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious workshop".a "country of the encounter". 

Healthy secularism, a condition for free citizenship

In fact, the country's constitution, by defining the country as a layprovides for freedom of religion. This is tantamount, says Francis, to a healthy secularity, which recognizes "the valuable and irreplaceable role of religion." and opposes the extremism that corrodes it. It thus represents "an essential condition for the equitable treatment of each citizen, in addition to fostering a sense of belonging to the country on the part of all its ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious elements.". Therefore, "religious freedom constitutes the best channel for civil coexistence"..

The Pope also noted the meaning of the name "Kazakh", which evokes a free and independent walk. The protection of freedom implies the recognition of rights, accompanied by duties. Francis took the opportunity to applaud the abolition of the death penalty - in the name of the right of every human being to hope - together with freedom of thought, conscience and expression; as well as the strengthening of democratic mechanisms in institutions and at the service of the people, the fight against corruption and the protection of the weakest.

John Paul II came to the country to sow hope, after the tragic attacks on the twin towers in New York (2001). "I" -said Francisco. "I arrive here while the senseless and tragic war originating from the invasion of Ukraine is ongoing, while other clashes and threats of conflict endanger our time.". And he added: "I come to amplify the cry of so many who implore peace, an essential path of development for our globalized world.". For this," he said, "understanding, patience and dialogue with everyone are necessary. 

Fraternity is based on our being "creatures".

At the opening of the plenary session of the Congress of leaders of world and traditional religionsThe Pope addressed the leaders and representatives of the religions of the world. "in the name of that fraternity that unites us all, as sons and daughters of the same heaven". (Speech at the Independence Palace, Nursultan, 14-IX-2022). In his speech, he quoted abundantly from the country's most celebrated poet and father of its modern literature, Abay Ibrahim Qunanbayuli (1845-1904), popularly known as Abai. "We need" -Francisco affirmed. "to find meaning in the ultimate questions, to cultivate spirituality; we need, Abai said, to keep 'the soul awake and the mind clear'"..

A message for a more harmonious coexistence

In our times, the Pope pointed out, the time has come for an authentic religiosity, free from fundamentalism. The time has come to reject the "discourses that [...] have instilled suspicion and contempt for religion, as if it were a destabilizing factor in modern society.". Specifically, the discourses stemming from State atheism, with their "oppressive and suffocating mentality whereby the mere use of the word 'religion' was uncomfortable.". "Actually." -Francisco observes, "religions are not a problem, but part of the solution for a more harmonious coexistence"..

In the last part of the speech, he pointed out four challenges that religions can help to overcome: post-pandemia (taking special care of the weakest and neediest); peace (committing themselves to it in the name of the Creator); hospitality and fraternal welcome (because every human being is sacred), especially of migrants; and care for the common home, which is a gift from the heavenly father.

And in case it were not clear to anyone how believers can collaborate in all this (by contributing what is positive and purifying themselves of what is negative), the Pope concludes: "Let us not seek false conciliatory syncretisms - they are useless - but rather let us keep our identities open to the courage of otherness, to fraternal encounter. Only in this way, along this path, in the dark times in which we live, will we be able to radiate the light of our Creator".

Pope encourages Christian "little flock" open to all

In his assessment of the trip, Peter's successor noted: "As far as the Church is concerned, I was very happy to find a community of happy, joyful, enthusiastic people. Catholics are few in this vast country. But this condition, if lived with faith, can bear evangelical fruits: above all the beatitude of littleness, of being leaven, salt and light, counting only on the Lord and no form of human relevance. Moreover, the scarcity of numbers invites us to develop relationships with Christians of other confessions, and also fraternity with all.

Therefore, a small flock, yes, but open, not closed, not defensive, open and entrusted to the action of the Holy Spirit, who blows freely where and how He wills.". He also remembered the martyrs: "The martyrs of that holy People of God - for they have suffered decades of atheistic oppression, until liberation 30 years ago - men and women who have suffered so much for the faith during the period of persecution: killed, tortured, imprisoned for the faith" (General Audience, 21-IX-2022).

In fact, in his meeting with bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, seminarians and pastoral workers (cf. Address in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Nursultan, 14-IX-2022), the Bishop of Rome reminded them that the faith is transmitted through life and witness. And neither our weaknesses nor our littleness are an obstacle to this, because we have the strength of Christ. What we need is not the illusory display of our strengths, but the humility to allow ourselves to be led by God's grace. The lay faithful must be, within society, men and women of communion and peace, rejecting fears and complaints, with the help of close and compassionate pastors. 

Being Christian means "living without poisons".

"With that small but joyful flock we celebrated the Eucharist, in Nursultan, in the square of Expo 2017, surrounded by very modern architectures. It was the feast of the Holy Cross. And that gives us pause for thought. In a world where progress and regression intersect, the Cross of Christ remains the anchor of salvation: a sign of hope that does not disappoint because it is founded on the love of God, merciful and faithful." (General Audience, 21-IX-2022).

In fact, the homily of the Mass on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14, 2022) was a lesson in pastoral theology on the meaning of the Cross. Francis recalled the story of the serpents that bit the Israelites on their journey through the desert, and how God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent so that whoever looked at it would be cured (cf. chapter 21 of Num). 

From there, he distinguished Francis two types of snakes: first, "the snakes that bite". (murmuring, discouragement, distrust of God, violence and atheistic persecution and, as the root of all this, sin). Secondly, "the snake that saves"which foreshadowed Jesus, nailed to the cross; so that "looking to Him, may we resist the venomous bites of the evil snakes that attack us.". The arms of Jesus, stretched out on the cross, show us the fraternity that we must live among ourselves and with everyone: "...".the path of humble, free and universal love, no ifs and buts". 

In Kazakhstan religions are at the service of peace

Finally, on the occasion of the closing of the congress, Francis recalled the motto of his visit, alluding to believers of all religions: "Messengers of peace and unity.". And he recalled that, after the events of September 11, 2001, John Paul II considered that "it was necessary [...] to react together to the incendiary climate that terrorist violence wanted to provoke and that threatened to make religions a factor of conflict". (Speech at the Palace of Independence), Nursultan, 15-IX-2022). That is why in 2002 he summoned the faithful to Assisi to pray for peace (January 24, 2002).

Pope Bergoglio added: "Terrorism with a pseudo-religious matrix, extremism, radicalism, nationalism fueled by sacredness, still foment fears and concerns about religion today". "That is why in these days it has been providential to meet again and reaffirm the true and inalienable essence of religion".

And what did the congress conclude in this regard? In the words of Francisco: "The Declaration of our Congress affirms that extremism, radicalism, terrorism and any other incitement to hatred, hostility, violence and war, whatever their motivation or aim, have no connection with the true religious spirit and must be rejected with the most resolute determination..." (cf. n. 5); they are to be condemned, no ifs and buts"..

Politics and religion

Kazakhstan, located in the heart of Asia, has been the place to clarify the relationship between politics and religion (with its appeal to transcendence), between earthly authorities and divine authority. Between them there is distinction, not confusion or separation. Let there be no confusion, because the human being needs freedom to fly towards transcendence without being limited by earthly power; neither should transcendence be translated into partisan human power. At the same time, there is no separation between politics and transcendence, since, the Pope pointed out, "the highest human aspirations cannot be excluded from public life and relegated to the mere private sphere."And that is why States must protect religious freedom, also in the face of violence by extremists and terrorists. 

He recalled that the Catholic Church believes in the dignity of each person, created in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26). She also believes in the unity of the human family on the basis of the same origin in God the Creator (cf. Second Vatican Council, Decl. Nostra aetate, on relations with non-Christian religions, n. 1). It considers interreligious dialogue to be a path of peace, not only possible but indispensable, in the footsteps of the path of man, which is the path of the Church (cf. John Paul II, Enc. Redemptor hominis, 14). 

Francis concluded by pointing out that "man is the way of all religions".. We believers are called, even in the post-pandemic period, to bear witness to transcendence (going "beyond", towards adoration), to fraternity and to the care of creation. To this end, it is especially important to make room for women and young people.

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