John Paul II to Visit Kazakhstan in September

Trip to Central Asian Republic Is Confirmed

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 20, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II will visit the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan from Sept. 20-25, the Vatican Press Office said.

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, archbishop major of Lviv, Ukraine, previously said that the Pope would visit Kazakhstan on his next pastoral trip. But no dates were given, until today´s announcement.

The Pope will be visiting a relatively new Church in Kazakhstan, one born in sorrowful times and sustained by hardy believers.

Osiornoe, which in Russian means “place of the lake,” was a deserted stretch of steppe when Catholics from western Ukraine settled it in 1936. The faithful, of German, Polish and Ukrainian nationality, had been deported by Stalin.

The deportees, who arrived in closed cattle wagons, had to face winter temperatures of 40 below zero. They managed to build a kolkhoz, or collective farm, in the treeless region. Their kolkhoz eventually joined with another, known as Vanguard.

For the next 18 years, until Stalin´s death in 1954, Vanguard residents were forbidden to leave the area. In the winter of 1941, when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, and resources were diverted to the front, many Vanguard residents died of hunger.

Then, on March 25 of that year, an unusual thaw occurred, and a great lake full of fish emerged. The resulting catches were God´s providence, residents believed. Further starvation was averted.<br>
In the early years in Kazakhstan, the settlers lacked a priest, but they kept the faith alive by praying the rosary a lot. In later years, priests were able to come to the area and work occasionally, and in secret.

Father Jan Pavel Lenga, now bishop of Karaganda, began to explore the zone in 1981. Although at times stopped by the police, he managed to administer to some 70 villages in the area.

Then on Aug. 22, 1990, Father Tomasz Peta arrived from Poland, on the feast of Our Lady, Queen and Mother. The previous month, with Moscow´s permission, the residents had begun to build a church, which in 1992 was blessed by Cardinal Jozef Glemp, primate of Poland.

Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991. Four years later, the Church of Osiornoe became the Shrine of Kazakhstan, consecrated to Mary, Queen of Peace. A statue was erected to Our Lady in 1997, surrounded by fish, in memory of the 1941 phenomenon, and the following year a 12-meter cross was placed at the top of a nearby hill.

In 1999, John Paul II made Father Peta a bishop and appointed him apostolic administrator of Astana, for Latin-rite Catholics in Kazakhstan.

This country, with 16.7 million inhabitants, is about four times the size of Texas. It borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea. About half the population is Muslim; 44% is Russian Orthodox. Catholics comprise about 300,000, or 1.8%, of the population.

John Paul II´s last trip abroad, to Ukraine, in June, attracted 2 million people to papal events.

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